The early 2000’s saw a lot of MTV crowd, ensemble piece slasher flicks try and imitate the success of the Scream franchise. Some are great (Urban Legend) and some, like Ripper: Letter From Hell, fall short of being anything but vaguely entertaining distractions.
AJ Brook plays the survivor of a previous slew of killings studying the psychology of mass murder under a creepy but well researched college professor (Bruce Payne). Suddenly a new killer emerges who uses the crimes of infamous Jack The Ripper as a baseline and commits horrific copycat murders. She finds herself in the crosshairs of this fiend while her friends all start falling victim one by one and a mysterious homicide cop (Jurgen Prochnow) from her past begins to open new investigations.
This is some bottom of the barrel stuff, not gonna lie. Payne and Prochnow genre pedigree amongst the newbie teenage cannon fodder but even they seem too melodramatic for this. I will say it has a cool atmosphere though, and anything to do with the Ripper legacy will always be fascinating.
Any enthusiastic reader will attest to the power of books, how they can transport you to other worlds and open doors to new realities. John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness takes that idea and whips it up into something terrifyingly literal, deliciously meta, relentlessly gruesome and thoroughly addictive for any horror fan whose tastes are rooted in pop culture.
It starts off with a crazed Sam Neill being shunted off to a remote asylum, raving like a loon about things that go bump in the night. This is cool because inherently Neill seems like a collected, pragmatic fellow onscreen so it’s especially disturbing watching him come apart at the seams and go ballistic. As he tells his story to a state appointed shrink (the great David Warner) so too do we learn of how he was once a hotshot insurance investigator hired by a publishing tycoon (Charlton Heston in an awesome extended cameo) to find their golden goose horror author Sutter Cane, who has gone missing. Cane is of course a spiritual avatar for Stephen King here but King also exists in this universe because they proudly and hilariously proclaim that Cane outsold him by a landslide, the first little meta touch of many. Neill heads off to Hobbs End, a town in one of Cane’s books that doesn’t seem to actually exist… until it does. He finds a whole lot there including Cane himself, now gone mad and played by ever intense scene stealer Jurgen Pröchnow in a devilish turn.
I’m not sure why this didn’t make as big a splash as some of Carpenter’s flagship works but for me it’s one of his very best. As Neill realizes the kind of chaos that his visit to Hobbs End will cause the audience gets to experience a medium shattering dose of immersive horror that breaks the boundaries of screens in front of us and feels both hilariously and eerily alive all it’s own (think Last Action Hero in the horror realm). That’s not to mention some truly spectacular special effects to almost rival Carpenter’s The Thing and sly, tongue in cheek performances from all involved including Julie Carmen, Peter Jason, Bernie Casey, Willhelm Von Homburg, Frances Bay and John Glover as the freaky deaky asylum administrator. You can’t ask for much more from a horror film as far as I’m concerned; reality bending narrative, gore to spare, atmosphere in bushels and humour as well. Grab the Shout Factory Blu Ray if you can because the single DVD release is a grainy, cropped affair and this film deserves to have all its gristle, guts and Lovecraftian glory shown in HD. Horror classic.
There are religious films that are faith based preachy garbage (anything Kirk Cameron makes) and there are religious films that are fiction based and just happen to be structured around theology like that (The Omen, End Of Days). I can’t stand the former, but the latter has made for an interesting sub-genre in Hollywood, mostly horror centric but sometimes otherwise. Carl Schultz’s The Seventh Sign is one that carefully and delicately walks the line between these two types, but because it’s so atmospheric, well made and acted it works on any level including the religious themes.
Demi Moore and Michael Biehn play a young couple who rent their laneway house out to a mysterious stranger (Jurgen Prochnow) who isn’t who or what he says he is. Moore is expecting her first child, but there seems to be complications with the pregnancy and Prochnow shows a suspicious amount of interest in the child. Coincidentally, scary apocalyptic signs start showing up around the world like storms, dead fish in the sea and a blood moon, heralding some sort of widespread cataclysm. There’s also a sinister Vatican priest (Peter Friedman) wandering around getting in people’s business too.
The plot itself is essentially just your standard end of days gobbledygook, but that’s not what matters anyways. Moore is fantastic here, soulfully embodying a mother’s love coupled with mounting depression and making you feel for her character strongly. Biehn shows the same fierce charisma he did in The Terminator and this time brings on even more emotion to his role, particularly in the final minutes of the film that could be his best work. Prochnow has had a long and consistent career playing all kinds of nasty terrorists, crime bosses, nazis, poachers, pimps and any other kind of asshole you could imagine. It’s really rare to see him in a non villain role let alone one where he gets to show such grace and subtlety, he nails it and I won’t say much about the character except that it’s a tricky balancing act of shadowy portent and compassion that he deals with wonderfully. Watch for a quick, lively cameo from John Heard as well.
The atmosphere here is so well done that you often forget about story and get lost in the dreamy scenes that flow into each other in an almost subconscious way. The way the ambience lingers in the filmmaking reminds me, of all things, of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Odd comparison and this is by no means a horror movie but the two share the same sort of elongated, off kilter aesthetic that seems removed from reality, helped a lot here by journeyman composer Jack Nitzsche and his score. The third act brings the narrative to an affecting close and lets the three leads land their arcs on a quiet, sorrowful note, it’s the key sequence in making this a great film.
David Lynch’s Dune is a great film despite what critics, moviegoers, the general consensus and Lynch himself would have you believe. It’s obvious that heavy editing turned it into something of a pacing quagmire, scenes are truncated, oddly conceived voiceovers are added, and yadda yadda. Doesn’t matter. This is still an exquisitely crafted, beautifully atmospheric space opera that takes full advantage of production design, casting, special effects and music, I loved every damn minute of it. I’ve recently been reading Lynch’s semi autobiography and it seems clear that that money shark producer Dino De Laurentiis had final cut and just couldn’t reconcile letting the runtime go past two and a quarter hours. Shame, as there was no doubt way more that we could have seen, but what’s left is still magnificent. I haven’t read the books so I can’t speak for any lapses as far as that goes, but what we have here is a sweeping science fiction fantasy saga about warring royal families, shifting alliances and metaphysical forces all revolving around the desert planet Arrakis, where an invaluable spice is mined and fought over by all. Duke Leto Atreides (Jurgen Prochnow), his wife Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) and their son Paul (Kyle Maclachlan) travel far across the universe from their home world of Caladan to oversee Spice harvesting and production. Buoyant, herpes afflicted fatso Baron Harkonnen (the inimitable Kenneth McMillan takes scenery chewing to a whole new level) seeks to usurp and steal the operation for his house. So begins a series of wars, betrayals and no end of staggeringly staged set pieces and baroque, abstractly conceived production design that Lynch & Co. slaved over for years to bring us. The sand worms are a visual marvel, as are the gold and silver spaceships, the interiors of which feel both lushly industrial and gleamingly regal. Maclachlan and Lynch had their first team up here, the first of many, and the young actor is a magnetic lead, handling the arc well from a naive prince to a desert outlaw who wins over the leader (Everett McGill) of the indigenous tribe of Arrakis and falls in love with their princess (Sean Young, somehow *even* sexier here than she was in Blade Runner). Lynch has amassed an unbelievable cast here, an epic laundry list of names including Patrick Stewart, Max Von Sydow, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Virginia Madsen, Alicia Witt, Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, Freddie Jones, Jack Nance and more, all excellent. Sting is in it too and I have to say that his is the only performance that’s campy in a bad way instead of good, you should see him leering at the camera like he’s in a second grade play. One of the film’s greatest strengths is the original score by Toto, who dial back their trademark rock vibe and produce something atmospheric and elemental in the vein of Vangelis or Tangerine Dream. Their main theme is distinct and oddly melancholic and the rest is synthesis style, beautiful work. I don’t know what to tell you about the whole editing debacle, I mean I guess if De Laurentiis hadn’t have had to swing his dick around Lynch may have had his three plus hour cut, but would that really have been better, or would there have then been a complete lack of pacing and progression ? Who knows, but the way it is now, admittedly there’s a lack of complete coherency and one can tell certain scenes are missing while others languish and take up too much running time, but the issues are nowhere close to as disastrous as the swirling reputation around this film suggest. I’m just so stoked on it now because I avoided it for years thinking it was some giant cinematic mistake a lá Battlefield Earth. Not a chance, and I think many people are just being a bit dramatic, because this is a showstopper of a fantasy epic and I loved it to bits. Just bought the Blu Ray off Amazon a minute ago, excited for many revisits.
I love the cinema of Uwe Boll. How you ask? Haven’t you read the reviews – don’t you know the stories? My answer: Yes.
I have read the press, I know all the stories. I watched as mindless degenerates hiding in their mother’s basements hurled shit across the web, and into the face of one of cinema’s most prolific, most passionate, fiercely independent figures. A man who needed, not a studio, but his own incredible knowledge and production savvy to make movies . . .
. . . all Uwe Boll ever wanted to do.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s set the ‘way-back machine’ for the late 90’s, and I’m tending the counter at the local video store – back when it was really its namesake – and they bring in a new coin-op to keep the punters in the store and spending money. That video game was called House of the Dead.
Supposedly so graphic and horrifying – as well as being literally rated R – HOTD was a shoot ’em up in the best, most fun sense of the genre. Behind the black curtain that was there to frivolously attempt to shield the eyes of the innocent from the mayhem, the masochistic, bullet-shredding magnificence, was a really cool world where the aim of the game was to blast your way through hordes of the undead with merciless glee.
So being a fan, and sneaking off to play while I should have been at the desk – when a friend of mine said, “I hear they’re going to make a movie based of this” – I was like, “take all my money man – this is gonna rock!” (And that was prior to The Rock giving video game adaptations a shot)
I remember going to the cinema to see it, and soon being one of only a handful of people still watching after a good number of folks had walked out. So – why did I stay I can hear you ask? Well there are two reasons. One is simple – I enjoyed the movie on many levels. Yes it wasn’t the game, nor could it have been. I think people operate under the fallacy that just because a video game has a backstory or mythology on which it is based, then it must be simple to adapt into a movie. I believe precisely the opposite to be true. I think truly solid adaptations rely more on the wit and invention of the filmmaker. To combine a good narrative with recognizable elements from the game to appease the faithful.
And, love him or despise him, that is exactly what Uwe Boll could do – and do well. For if he couldn’t dear reader, then those multitudes of investors that he went back to time after time, movie after movie would not have entertained him. If he were not commercially successful, the career of Uwe Boll would not exist, nor could it be captured in the brilliant, candid and touching portrait of a film about a filmmaker, a man, who refused to remain silent whether he was being applauded or damned.
Unlike Dan Lee West’s RAGING BOLL, which deals more with the sensationalist side of Boll’s career, S.P. Shaul’s picture meanders down the quite roads and sheds light on the personal figure behind the media circus, the private man, the family man, the man who in spite of those basement dweller’s vitriol – followed his dreams and fought many a battle to bring them into the cold light of reality.
FUCK YOU ALL, is not a gratuitous middle finger in the face from the man dubbed the worst filmmaker of all time. No dear PTS listener – it is about the pursuit of what inspires, the burden of making visions come alive as well as the reminiscences of a man who worked with and alongside the cream of the Hollywood crop while smiling at the absurdity of it all.
When and wherever you can see this, The Uwe Boll Story, I urge and hasten you. It is filled with insults and hatred but that is always counterbalanced by the friends and collaborators of Dr. Boll, speaking words of praise, constructive criticism, and overall of a man with whom it was always fun to go to work with – and as it is said best, by Brendan Fletcher (a long-time Boll collaborator), and I’m paraphrasing here: but he speaks to the haters of Boll and says . . . “when have they ever risked anything?”
It is a great film about a fascinating artist and I am most excited to present my chats now, not only with the filmmaker responsible for the documentary, but with the filmmaker who inspired him to make the journey . . .
As a child, Uwe produced a number of short films on Super 8 and video before beginning his studies as a film director in Munich and Vienna. He also studied literature and economics in Cologne and Siegen. Uwe graduated from university in 1995 with a doctorate in literature. Uwe has since directed, written and produced over 30 movies with such stars as Ben Kingsley, Jason Statham, Ray Liotta and Ron Perlman. Uwe also runs and owns the BAUHAUS Restaurant in Vancouver alongside Michelin Star chef Stefan Hartmann.
Sean is a Canadian Documentary Filmmaker who became aware of Uwe Boll whilst working on the production, Assault on Wall Street. His first encounter the wild, unchecked hullabaloo of an Uwe Boll movie. Sean would then go back and watch a number of the master’s films before lightning struck – Uwe would be the subject of his next documentary. Boll never one to have a problem with being candid – Shaul received and all access pass to the life behind the great director – enough to construct this, his definite portrait of the man, the myth, the mouth . . . the man named, BOLL!
There’s an expression around the campfire of film criticism called ‘Die Hard clone’, a residual effect of how influential that movie was on the action genre. Although that term certainly applies to the terminally goofy Heaven’s Fire (that title tho), I resist the impulse to always trace films back to their inspiration as a negative connotation, and view every story as it’s own encapsulated adventure. Now that aside, this one is pretty shitty on it’s own terms, as you can probably tell by the almost deliberately shabby DVD art. It’s worth it for two reasons only, if you’re a fan of either: Eric Roberts and Jurgen Prochnow, two charismatic genre players who are always so much fun to see, even in Fisher Price knockoff crap like this. Prochnow, for like the tenth time in his career so far, plays a terrorist who seizes a high rise building, planning to hold the city ransom or blow it up. Roberts, that charming bastard, plays an off duty treasury agent who happens to be on a tour through the facility with his family and gets caught in the middle. You can guess where it goes. Gunfire, cringy one liners, standoff’s, inept hostage negotiations, all the tropes are present and accounted for. The script is so bad it almost seems like an SNL parody concocted by fifth grade guest writers, you almost can’t even hate the film because it reaches levels of absurdity that are, dare I say, *adorably* terrible. Eric and Jurgen ham it up in their own special way and if you enjoy their work (I’m something of a fanatic) it’s worth tracking down just to see the two legends side by side. Oh and like so many two bit flicks of this nature, Vancouver is the home-base for filming, which is always a plus no matter how shitty your movie is, because I get to take in the scenery and spot landmarks I pass by every day. Silly, silly stuff, and I’m pretty sure it’s rated PG13 too as there’s no swearing and all the violence is Grade school play level.
Dark Asylum is one of those dimly lit, cheesy horror efforts that plays on cable somewhere in the wee hours, a trash exercise in low budget exploitation that leaves little impression other than spotting which character actors are in the roll call to collect a paycheque. In a conveniently remote location, a young psychologist (Paulina Porizkova) arrives at a sanitarium to examine a freaky serial killer called The Trasher (Hollywood’s resident extraterrestrial, the late Larry Drake). The head doctor of the asylum (Jurgen Prochnow), seems to have a relaxed attitude towards security and before you can say Hannibal Lecter, The Trasher escapes captivity and runs about the place killing and terrorizing anything that moves, including a hapless custodian played by Judd Nelson. The whole premise is one of those ridiculously staged things where the killer seems superhuman, can survive everything from sixty pound fire extinguisher hits to the head to being run over by a vehicle, despite being human (I’m reminded of Hollow Man). It’s ok when Michael Myers survives all that shit because he’s.. you know, Michael Myers, he’s earned the esoteric badge, but any old killer in any old B flick surviving everything thrown at him grows old and lowers the stakes pretty quick. Anyways it’s not a terrible movie, just pretty middle of the road, non-special horror filler with enough atmosphere to warrant a watch.
It’s a shame that Michael Mann feels the way he does about The Keep, and although I can’t really blame him after the Leatherface worthy hack job the studio inflicted on his original three plus hour cut, it’s a heartbreak and a half that we may never see a director’s version because what is left is still one of the most haunting, beautifully done Lovecraftian horror fever dreams one can find in VHS-land. Based on a brilliant novel by F. Paul Wilson, Mann employs a legion of smoke machines, a troupe of eclectic character actors all cast against type and giving marvellous work, and a drop dead gorgeous original score from Tangerine Dream that remains in my top OST’s to this day. Somewhere deep in the Romanian mountains, a squadron of German soldiers led by weary Captain Woerman (Jurgen Pröchnow) comes a across a tiny hidden village that harbours a dark secret: just beyond the township is a looming, mysterious structure built to keep something locked inside, and has lain dormant for centuries. Their gravest mistake is setting up camp in this unholy basilica, for soon they’ve awoken whatever resides within, and it really wants out. Cue the arrival of sadistic SS officer Kaempffer (a very young Gabriel Byrne) and his Nazi bastard crew, as well as a professor of ancient languages (Ian Mckellan) with his daughter (the late Alberta Watson). Elsewhere in Europe, otherworldly stranger Glaecken (the great Scott Glenn) is stirred by the happenings at the Keep and treks across the war torn continent towards an unknown end. What follows is an entrancing supernatural fusion mixup of old school prosthetic effects, genocide metaphors, lovingly creaky production design and synth music that will scorch your soul. Glenn plays the shadowy warrior better than ever here, with a paranormal gleam in his eyes and the stone-faced, gravel voiced resolve to see his strange quest through to a brutal conclusion. McKellen emotes fiercely both in and out of some well done old age makeup, sometimes almost unrecognizable but always spirited and present. Pröchnow rarely gets non villain roles with depth but this might be his best ever, early in his career too. He turns the Captain into a sorrowful picture of regret and compassion that one doesn’t often see in Hollywood based German army roles from WWII. Watson is a doe eyed beauty whose loss of innocence and discovery of love is portrayed wonderfully by the actress, who sadly passed away long before her time. Byrne is evil incarnate, with a startling cropped haircut that would be right at home in this day and age it seems. Mann favourite Robert Prosky also shows up as a local priest with knowledge of The Keep. Somewhere out there in someone’s garage there lies a full cut of this film, just waiting for an extended Blu Ray transfer, complete with tweaks on sound design (its fuzzy commotion at times), special features and the redemptive treatment that a sterling genre addition like this deserves. There’s so much quality to be found in it, from the alluring atmosphere that’s so thick it finds its way into your dreams after, to the aforementioned Tangerine Dream soundtrack that haunts the film’s visual landscape like an auditory phantasm to the silver and purple hued neon production design, resplendent in its tactile, tangible glory, it stands as a flawed classic with the potential to be so much more, if Mann mans up and makes the effort to give one of his very best efforts that care and time it deserves to rise from the void and soar again. If only. Oh and one more thing: there’s one more scene before the credits that isn’t in the actual cut, but go find it on YouTube because it’s really worth it and adds a lot to the story.
I have always been a fan of underdog stories. They hold for the viewer a message of hope that – should one’s fortitude and perseverance be fixed to the sticking place – then there is nothing that can’t be accomplished or overcome.
Having enjoyed the first installment of the Martial Arts Kid, as well as having a chance to chat with two of its legendary cast, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock, I was thrilled at the prospect that, not only would the story continue, but that I would have a chance to meet the players from this exciting second chapter.
Of course, it is obvious, that there are parallels to be drawn with John G. Avildsen’s iconic The Karate Kid. Still this is a story onto itself – a story of the discipline it takes to rise to the challenge, and ultimately find redemption in the wake of defeat.
The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback sees the return of Wilsonand Rothrock, headlining an all-star cast of Martial Arts professionals in a tale of courage and honor in the face of adversity. My guests include Producer, Dr. Robert Goldman and stars T.J. Storm, Matthew Ziff and Brandon Russell – all returning from the MAK. I’m certain this shall be another inspirational story, combined with the finest Martial Arts action, and featuring the real life champions of the various styles. A pleasure it was to talk to each of them, and more exciting, the anticipation of the release of the MAK 2. I trust you will enjoy my guest’s insights along with the movie . . . upon its release.
Dr. Goldman is a 6th degree Black Belt in Karate, Chinese weapons expert, and world champion athlete with over 20 world strength records and has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Some of his past performance records include 13,500 consecutive straight leg situps and 321 consecutive handstand pushups. Dr. Goldman was an All-College athlete in four sports, a three-time winner of the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Physical Fitness Award, was voted Athlete of the Year, was the recipient of the Champions Award and was inducted into the World Hall of Fame of Physical Fitness, as well as induction into numerous Martial Arts Hall of Fames in North America, Europe, South America and Asia. He founded the International Sports Hall of Fame, recognizing the world’s greatest sports legends, with ceremonies held annually at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival the largest sports festival in the world, with over 200,000 participants, 70+ sports represented and over 20,000 competing athletes, making it double the size of the Olympic Games.
In high school Storm was shy and started break-dancing as a way of trying to “fit in”. Dance quickly became T.J.’s passion and he would win over 200 dance competitions in the genres of hip hop and break-dancing. He received a dance scholarship and this paved the way for his move to Los Angeles and dancing in music videos. Dance was his passion, but it only provided him with enough money for rent and a diet of Ramen Noodles and Pop Tarts, with little left for anything else. Devoted to the martial arts, Storm often found himself stopping by and observing an outdoor Northern Shaolin class on his way home from work. Eventually Storm was approached by the teacher and he was asked to join class, allowing him to add the knowledge of Northern Shaolin to his others arts. Using his talents for dance and martial arts, T.J. began to pursue acting. He graduated from the Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Acting Academy. While playing the role of Bayu on the television series, Conan The Adventurer, Storm developed the unique action style that he is known for. His brand of action is a combination of martial arts, acrobatic skill, comedic timing, and an almost balletic grace. Storm has since gone on to work with Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Kelly Hu, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Michelle Rodriquez, Neal McDonough and Kristanna Loken. T.J. Storm made motion captures for Captain Josh Stone and Dave Johnson in Resident Evil 5. He is known for his roles as Criag Marduk in the Tekken Series, and Strider Hiryu in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Soon you will hear T.J. Storm in the video game Battlefield Hardline (2015), and see him in The Gold Rush Boogie (2015), Jonny Flytrap (2015) Bullets Blades and Blood (2015), Boone: The Bounty Hunter 2014 and as Coach Laurent Kaine in The Martial Arts Kid (2014).
Matthew Ziff’s professional career started two months after he was born when he signed with the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency in New York. He has been featured in numerous print ads and campaigns including Glamour magazine. By age 10, due to his talent as well as his professionalism, not only was he considered a top child model, called upon constantly for magazines, clothes and toy boxes, as well as various commercials, he had already appeared in comedy skits on both the David Letterman and Conan O’Brien shows. During his high school years at The Blair Academy, Matthew kept active with acting classes, as well as performing in stage productions, not only as an actor, but also as a director. Once in college at the University of Miami, he signed with Stellar and Elite Talent agencies where he filmed multiple commercials and embarked more thoroughly on his film career. Matthew has worked in many genres in such films as Six Gun Savior (Eric Roberts, Martin Kove), Treachery (Michael Biehn, Sarah Butler, Jennifer Blanc), Hardflip (John Schneider, Randy Wayne), Online Abduction (Brooke Butler, David Chokachi), Mansion of Blood (Robert Picardo, Gary Busey), Safelight (Evan Peters, Juno Temple), Among Friends (Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder) and Searching for Bobby D (Paul Borghese, William DeMeo). In addition to acting, Matthew has his second degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and has studied Hapkido as well as Kendo (swords). In July, 2012, he represented the USA in the International Quidditch Association’s Summer Games during the Olympic Torch Relay in England, where Team USA won the Gold medal. He is also a marksman with rifles and pistols and is a multi-instrumental musician specializing in guitar, bass and saxophone. Matthew has a Master’s of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Miami. He is a member of SAG, AFTRA, AEA and GIAA. He maintains homes in California, New York and Florida.
Brandon expressed an interest in acting at the age of 3 and by 5 was already a member of SAG. His biggest role to date was his lead role in the feature film, Smitty (2012), which was released in April 2012. Brandon plays the lead role of Ben Barrett and worked alongside: Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Louis Gossett Jr., Lolita Davidovich, Jason London, and Booboo Stewart. Since filming Smitty, he has gone on to film supporting roles in Wiener Dog Nationals (2013) and The Martial Arts Kid (2015). He also had a lead role in the UPtv holiday movie, Beverly Hills Christmas (2015). Brandon has also been seen on Tosh.0 (2009), Supah Ninjas (2011), and Instant Mom (2013). Later, he portrayed Peter Michaels in Fishes ‘n Loaves: Heaven Sent (2016) alongside Patrick Muldoon and Dina Meyer.
Michael Mann’s Luck was a painfully short lived HBO original series with reach-for-the-stars potential, a mind blowing cast and a terse, eccentric script from David Milch, all fuelling a brilliant ensemble storyline set in a pristine Los Angeles horse racing track. I’ll get the elephant out of the room right away: the series was cancelled due to a few of the horses dying on set, for whatever reasons. Had it been allowed to continue though, I imagine it would have gone on to become one of the network’s, and Mann’s, most hallowed and heralded works. Dustin Hoffman is the centrepiece of the cast as Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein, a sharp witted Jewish mobster who’s recent stretch in the joint has somewhat dulled his edge. Nevertheless, he slyly takes a stab at playing his hand with horse ownership, joined by his charismatic driver Gus (Dennis Farina, reliably wonderful). There’s all kinds of other hoopla going on, and it’s cool to see the story focus on both the upper crust elite doing their shady deals as well as everyday joes tossing their money into these worshipped games. Kevin Dunn is terrific as a disabled firebrand of a gambler, joined by his two scrappy pals (Ritchie Koster and Jason Gedrick) as they try out their own brand of luck. Jill Hennessy is a determined horse trainer who clashes with a belligerent owner (Yul Vasquez), and there’s two ominous crime kingpins played by Michael Gambon and Ted Levine who hover in the shadows as well. Further still is a heartbreaking turn from Richard ‘Bing Bong’ Kind as a stressed out jockey manager, Nick Nolte as a crusty, broken-down horse trainer, Joan Allen, Alan Rosenberg, Spencer Garrett, Don Harvey, Ian Hart, W. Earl Brown, Shaun Toub, Bruce Davison, Frank Collison, Mercedes Rhuel, Tony Curran and a cameo from Jurgen Pröchnow as the stern owner of the whole track. How’s that for a cast. I must say that the dense, peculiar dialogue from Milch takes some time getting used to, but once you tune in to it’s jive, it’s pure poetry being rattled off by every character, and a gorgeously structured, meticulously layered script at that. The actors are all on a plane of pure excellence as well, many of them turning in career best efforts and bringing their roles vividly to life. The cinematography from various artists is pure spun gold too, every sparkling irrigation sprinkler, glistening horse coat, careful closeup and crop of dirt kicked up by hooves captured succinctly and smoothly. This seriously is as near to a perfect season of television as one can get, and it kills me that it got cut down before it had a chance to really get going, because just think of the places it could have gone. At least we still have this first glorious season to admire, and I recommend every minute of it.