Tag Archives: John Travolta

Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty

Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty could also laterally be called Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty, since star John Travolta fought tooth and nail to keep all of the author’s dense, intelligent and pop culture soaked dialogue intact. The film is not only better for it but comes out a glowing gem, a giddy crime/comedy classic that’s as special to me as a comfort blanket to a toddler. A rainy day film, a lazy Sunday go-to DVD, I could watch the thing anytime and not only be consistently entertained with each revisit, but notice something I didn’t the previous couple hundred times. Travolta has never been cooler as Chili Palmer, a silver tongued Miami mobster who is propelled on a meta odyssey to Los Angeles after his boss dies and a whirlwind of confusion is whipped up. There he gets a taste for the film industry after meeting sad-sack B movie mogul Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman, priceless), scream queen actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo, never sexier) and a host of others. It’s a Hollywood satire, a pulpy crime thriller, a brilliant dark comedy and ensemble screwball piece that comes as close to the shores of perfection as movies can get. Dennis Farina gives one of his timelessly precious, angry wiseguy turns as Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni, another Miami hood and the barbaric, obnoxious answer to Travolta’s cool cucumber gentleman act. Delroy Lindo has further villain duties as crime kingpin Bo Catlett, who also has his sights set on celluloid and will intimidate, kill and extort his way there at any cost. Danny DeVito does a sly, biting send up of method acting as Martin Weir, a lovable thespian with his head just a wee bit jammed up his own ass. James Gandolfini is pure class as Bear, the stuntman who moonlights as an enforcer and carries his adorable daughter around anywhere he goes. Rounding out the cast are perfectly pitched turns from Jon Gries, David Paymer, Bette Midler, Martin Ferrero, Miguel Sandoval, Jack Conley and a special surprise cameo that I won’t spoil. Although not my favourite Leonard adaptation (Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight holds those honours), it’s definitely the most fun, and by far the most entertaining. The cleverness of offhand Hollywood jargon, peppered with obscure references that expect the cinephile in you to keep up are pure bliss, not to mention the tongue in cheek tough guy banter, the playful music by John Lurie, the lighthearted, whip crack editing from Jom Miller/Ted Woerner and the showcase performances from all actors involved, feasting on Elmore’s fine dialogue like steak & lobster. There’s a sequel called Be Cool which I have been reluctant to see, so I can’t weight in on it but apparently it doesn’t measure up, so you could always divert and check out Sonnenfield’s 2001 comedy Big Trouble, which is fun too and shares some costars with this (Farina and Russo appear in both). Or you can just pop this masterpiece in for another visit, and let it be it’s own sequel. I do all the time.

-Nate Hill

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Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line

There’s a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2 where Michael Madsen’s Budd lays down the sword rhetoric: “If you’re gonna compared a sword made by Hattori Hanzo, you compare it to every other sword ever made, that wasn’t made by Hattori Hanzo.” I’d like to augment that slightly in the case of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and say, “If you’re gonna compare The Thin Red Line, you compare it to every other war movie ever made that *isn’t* The Thin Red Line.” That’s not to say its better than all the rest or on any kind of quality pedestal, it’s just simply unlike every other war film out there, and that differentiation makes it an incredibly special picture. Why, you ask? Because it takes a ponderous, meditative approach to a very hectic horrific period in history, and takes the time to explore the effects of conflict on both humanity and nature, as well as how all those forces go hand in hand. What other war film does that? Malick uses a poets eye and a lyricist’s approach to show the Guadalcanal siege, a horrific battle in which lives were lost on both sides and the countryside ravaged by the fires of war. To say that this film is an ensemble piece would be an understatement; practically all of Hollywood and their mother have parts in this, from the front and centre players right down to cameos and even a few appearances that never made it into the final cut (which I’m still bitter about). The two central performances come from Jim Caviesel and Sean Penn as Pvt. Welsh and Sgt. Witt. Welsh is a compassionate, thoughtful man who seems primally uncomfortable in a soldiers uniform, and shirks the materialistic horror and industrialist grind of war to seek something more esoteric, a reason for being amongst the horror. Witt is a hard, cold man who sees no spiritual light at the end of the tunnel and does his job with grim resolve, scarcely pausing to contemplate anything but the next plan of action. These two are archetypes, different forces that play in each of us and, variations of which, are how we deal with something as incomparable as a world war. Around them swirl an endless sea of famous faces and other characters doing the best they can in the chaos, or simply getting lost in it. Nick Nolte as a gloomy Colonel displays fire and brimstone externally, but his inner monologue (a constant with Malick) shows us a roiling torment. A captain under his command (Elias Koteas) has an emotional crisis and disobeys orders to send his men to their death when thunderously pressured by Nolte. Koteas vividly shows us the heartbreak and confusion of a man who is ready to break, and gives arguably the best performance of the film. Woody Harrelson accidentally blows a chunk of his ass off with a grenade, John Cusack climbs the military rank with his tactics, John Savage wanders around in a daze as a sadly shell shocked soldier, Ben Chaplin pines for his lost love (Miranda Otto) and the jaw dropping supporting cast includes (deep breath now) Jared Leto, Nick Stahl, Tim Blake Nelson, Thomas Jane, Dash Mihok, Michael Mcgrady, John C. Reilly, Adrien Brody, Mark Boone Jr, Don Harvey, Arie Verveen, Donal Logue, John Travolta and a brief George Clooney. There’s a whole bunch who were inexplicably cut from scenes too including Bill Pullman, Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke. Rourke’s scene can be found, in pieces, on YouTube and it’s worth a search to see him play a haunted sniper. Hans Zimmer doles out musical genius as usual, with a mournfully angelic score that laments the process of war, particularly in scenes where Caviesel connects with the natives in the region, as well as a soul shattering ambush on the Japanese encampment that is not a sequence that ten year old Nate has been able to forget since I saw it and the hairs on my neck stood up. This is a diversion from most war films; Malick always has a dreamy filter over every story he weaves: exposition is scant, atmosphere matters above all else and the forces of music and visual direction almost always supersede dialogue, excepting inner thoughts from the characters. If you take that very specific yet loose and ethereal aesthetic and plug it into the machinations of a war picture, the result is as disturbing as it is breathtakingly beautiful, because you are seeing these events through a lens not usually brandished in the genre, and the consequences of war seem somehow more urgent and cataclysmic. Malick knows this, and keeps that tempo up for the entire near three hour runtime, giving us nothing short of a classic.

-Nate Hill

John McTiernan’s Basic

John McTiernan’s Basic is a film that commits the cardinal sin of cheating its audience with an obnoxious, horrendous twist ending that it neither earns nor properly makes sense of. It’s a real crying shame too, because the film up until then is a hell of a lot of fun and has a rambunctious John Travolta performance that could shake the cobwebs loose from a barn. When a near mythic drill instructor (a volcanic Samuel L. Jackson) with some terrifying over-the-line tactics disappears along with some of his cadets on a routine training exercise deep in the jungles of Panama, Travolta’s rowdy DEA Agent is called in to investigate. Why a DEA agent, you ask? Well, it being Panama one might assume that any controversy anywhere could be drug related, but the film states that it’s because no one is as skilled at interrogation than him. That proves to be true, as he slowly, cleverly speaks with the remaining trainees and starts to piece together a cluttered version of events from each one. They are played by the reliable likes of Dash Mihok, Taye Diggs, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt and Harry Connick Jr., and as such many of the scenes are quite engaging. It doesn’t hurt that Connie Nielsen is good too as Travolta’s anal retentive, by the book partner. The film oscillates through various scenarios, teasing us with which mystery might be real, and when it comes time to whisk the curtains back and land the pirouette of a reasonable final act… it just… shits itself and completely ruins not only everything that came before, but the entire film, which is really too bad. At first I thought I was just too stoned to get what happened the first time years ago, but I’ve since rewatched it a few more times and… nope. It’s illogical, unwarranted horse shit that doesn’t work any way you spin it. I would have honestly preferred the central mystery to never even get solved over the half assed resolution they cooked up. Roger Ebert pointed out that this film deserves to be in a genre he calls the ‘Jerk Around Movie,’ and I agree. It shamefully wastes the viewer’s time with an ending that’s both insulting to the efforts of the actors who really worked hard here, betrays it’s own narrative to the grave. Bleh.

-Nate Hill

John Woo’s Broken Arrow

When Hong Kong action alchemist John Woo mixes up his gracefully brutal aesthetic with big budget Hollywood high gloss, the results are an irresistible flavour. While not quite the balls out, blitzkrieg masterpiece that Face/Off is, his military gong show Broken Arrow is still one walk on the wild side of stunts, explosions, overblown madness and maniacal behaviour from John Travolta, who seems to be amping up the histrionics in double time just to cover Nicolas Cage’s shift this time around. He’s a navy pilot psycho called Deakins here, an unstable traitor who hijacks a volatile nuclear warhead and holds congress hostage, giggling like a schoolgirl the whole time. It’s up to his trainee and former partner Hale (Christian Slater) to hunt him through Death Valley where they’ve crashed, causing as much pyrotechnic commotion as possible and prep for the inevitable one on one smackdown that’s neatly foreshadowed by an opening credits boxing sequence between the two that’s an appetizer for the adrenal glands in prep for the chaos to follow. The action is fast, fierce and extremely violent, as is the amped up macho banter between the two, but Travolta really takes the role and sails off the charts into the ‘here there be dragons’ realm of acting reserved for only the most memorably over the top performances in history. “You’re fucking insane”, Slater sneers at him; “Yeah! Ain’t it cool?” Travolta smirks back with a face that would be straight if not for the knowing glint in his eyes. Park ranger Samantha Mathis helps Slater in his quest to bring the lunatic down, and there’s an impressive laundry list of character actors rounding out the military faction including Howie Long, Delroy Lindo, Frank Whaley, Bob Gunton, Chris Mulkey, Daniel Von Bargen, Vondie Curtis Hall, Jack Thompson, French Stewart, Raymond Cruz and Kurtwood ‘Red Forman’ Smith. Hans Zimmer does the score here and it’s an undervalued composition in his canon, a chromed up tune that drips cool and hurtles alongside the action awesomely. Woo has had some dodgy luck in Hollywood since (Mission Impossible 2 and Paycheck are painful), but this is one of his best stabs at the Western style of action, brought to eccentric life by Travolta’s oddball psycho and full of crazy ass action spectacle.

-Nate Hill

“Roadblocks won’t stop somethin’ that can’t be stopped.” : Remembering The Wraith with Mike Marvin by Kent Hill

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The Wraith was like many a glorious find back in the day at my local video store. The cover had a holographic shimmer to it – a strange robot-like character standing in front of some bad-ass, customized car that looked as though it would be more comfortable zipping through the galaxy rather than flying at break-neck speeds along the long stretches and cactus-lined roads of Arizona.

Yes sir, that cover held the promise of sci-fi mysticism combined with heat-thumping vehicular action to rival the Road Warrior.

Oddly enough, Dr. George’s post-apocalyptic action-adventure was the template for Mike Marvin’s Cult Classic. When the man who started out making skiing films came to Hollywood and saw an opportunity to fuse High Plains Drifter with Mad Max 2, one would assume it was a concept any studio would be happy to throw their weight behind.

But, then as now, the movie business can be treacherous, and Marvin’s experiences making The Wraith were far from pleasant. As a matter a fact, they were a nightmare. Plagued by unscrupulous producers, a tragic death while filming – along with all the other perils of production – it is a wonder that this certified 80’s classic ever made to to the screen.

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Lucky for us, however, thanks must go, in no small part, to a string of wonderful performers, a dedicated crew and a talented director at the helm, The Wraith survives as a one of a kind mash-up of genres that has endured and is, for this film writer at least, yet to be equaled.

This interview was conducted before I was able to sample Mike’s great and candid commentary on the Region 1 DVD release of the film. And while some of what he relayed to me you will find on that release, the truly glorious thing that I experienced was to hear these insights, plus a couple that were not covered in that commentary track, first hand from this journeyman warhorse of a film-maker.

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So seek out the The Wraith, those of you who have not yet experienced it. Let this interview, hopefully tantalize your interest to learn more about this incredible film that really was both ahead of its time, a product of its time and most assuredly one of a kind…

Ladies and Gentlemen…Mike Marvin.

 

 

“Do we really suck, or is this guy really that good?” : An Interview with Michael Davis by Kent Hill (PART 1)

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I really love this gig. I really do. I’ve had the distinction of being able to converse with many a hero and much admired artist over my time at PTS. There have though, been a few surprises along the way – and this was one of them.

I have long wanted to chat with Michael Davis. Part of it, and I’m sure you’ll agree having seen his films, that here is a man who went from making 100 Women to writing and directing the most-excellent, ballet of bullets that is Shoot ‘em Up. And you just need a few minutes of talking with Michael to understand how this was possible.

They say Scorsese has a machine-gun-mouth. Well listening to Michael is like standing next to Jesse Ventura firing Ol’ Painless. And – WOW – what a delight, the frenetic and passionate electricity that this man generates in infectious.

Michael’s initial overview of the birth of his career is one of the most entertaining I’ve ever heard. From his beginnings as a storyboard artist, to various writing assignments (don’t say Double Dragon out loud), to his eventual directorial debut; it’s a madcap movie marathon coming at you – at high speed!

Our conversation was so enthralling, so engaging, that I would be doing my guest a severe injustice to cut even a moment of it. So I shall be presenting it to you as a trilogy. Each section I promise is as entertaining as the last. So, don’t touch that dial, and prepare yourself to experience the filmmaking personification of the perfect storm that is . . . Michael Davis . . . . . . PART 1.

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THE ‘SHOWDOWN’ TRIPLE FEATURE by Kent Hill

This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .

Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.

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These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly,  died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.

The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.

For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky (The man on the rise), Matthias Hues (The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman (the veteran screenwriter).

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Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.

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Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

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Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.