Tag Archives: kiefer sutherland

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

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Just wild about Larry: An Interview with Steve Mitchell by Kent Hill

Steve Mitchell has been on quite a ride. Having begun in the world of comics, he has the distinction of inking the very first book by a guy you might have heard of . . . Frank Miller. But being in New York with all his friends heading west, Steve, after forging an impressive beginning to his career, took a phone call one night from his another friend and filmmaker Jim Wynorski. Jim wanted an opinion on an idea that, if he could make it work, they might be able to get the picture made. From that conversation a film would be born. It was the cult classic Chopping Mall.

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So like Horatio Alger before him, he went west and continued writing for both the worlds of film and television. The fateful moment would come one day while looking over the credits of the legendary maverick auteur, Larry Cohen, on IMDB.  Astounded by the length and breadth of Cohen’s career, Steve saw an opportunity to possibly make a documentary that would chronicle the life and exploits of the successful filmmaker.

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After receiving a blessing from the man (Larry) himself, Steve set about the mammoth undertaking of  not only pulling together the interviews with Cohen’s many collaborators, all of the footage of his many works , but also the financing to bring these and the countless other elements together to form KING COHEN: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen.

This truly insightful and utterly entertaining look at the, thus far continuing, career of Cohen is the passion project of a man with whom I share a kinship. Not only for the stories behind the men who make the movies, but also how the films we know and love were pieced together with money, dreams, light, shadow and the technical tools which help capture and refine the many wondrous adventures we as cinema goers have been relishing since our very first experiences.

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KING COHEN is a great film made by a really great guy, and it is my hope, as it is Steve’s hope, that you enjoy the story of Larry Cohen, but also come away from watching the film wishing to then seek out and discover the movies contained within that you may have only experienced for the first time as part of the documentary. The films of the filmmaker that inspired Steve’s film in the first place. (that’s a lot films)

Enjoy…

It’s good to be the King: An interview with Larry Cohen by Kent Hill

There is a quote attributed to Robert Rodriguez (another independent maverick filmmaker) that states:

“If you are doing it because you love it you can succeed because you will work harder than anyone else around you, take on challenges no one else would dare take, and come up with methods no one else would discover, especially when their prime drive is fame and fortune. All that will follow later if you really love what you do. Because the work will speak for itself.”

It is the always interesting, ever-changing, always inventive, ever professional life and work of Larry Cohen that really personifies the above quotation. King Cohen has been out there in one form or another in an impressive career spanning multiple decades. He has been the director of cult classics; he has been the writer of hot scripts that have incited Hollywood bidding wars. His work has been remade, imitated, venerated.

These are the hallmarks of a man and his movies whose personal voice rings out loud and clear, high above the commercial ocean of mainstream cinema that carries, beneath its shiny surface, schools of biodegradable blockbusters that are usually forgotten about only moments after having left the cinema.

This is not true of the films of Larry Cohen. For his work is the stuff (pardon the pun) that came before, the stuff the imitators latch on to, the stuff from which remakes and re-imaginations are conceived. This is the fate of the masters. The innovators come and bring forth art through trial and error. They are followed by the masters who take the lessons learned from the innovators and make them, shape them by sheer force of will. But, then there comes the imitators who stand on the shoulders of these giants and take home the glory.

Still, when there is an artist that is in equal parts innovator and master; this causes the imitators to stand baffled.

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Rather than accepting my humble oration, I urge you to seek out Steve Mitchell’s most excellent documentary KING COHEN. Watch it, marvel, rejoice, and remember that there are great filmmakers out there. They may not be coming soon to a theatre near you, but they did once, and their work still stands, silently, waiting to be discovered.

Until you get to see KING COHEN please, feel free to bask in my little chat with the king himself, Larry Cohen, a gentleman of many parts, many stories and of course . . . many movies.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Larry Cohen.

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Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth 


“Isn’t it funny? You hear a phone ring and it could be anybody. But a ringing phone has to be answered, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?”

So snarls Kiefer Sutherland’s mysterious telephone terrorist to a petrified Colin Farrell in Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth,

a taut, entertaining and oh so slightly heavy handed single location thriller that brings home the bacon, albeit messily spilling some grease along the way. Farrell is a hotshot businessman who steps into a phone booth (remember those?) one day, which serendipitously happens to also be the favourite haunt for sniper slinging whackjob Sutherland, who plays sadistic mind games, extorts the poor guy and digs up his darkest secrets, all while keeping him firmly in the crosshairs of his high powered rifle. The cops, led by a stoic Forest Whitaker, are perplexed at first and eventually drawn into this monster’s web too, as Farrell’s life begins to unravel at the whims of this unseen harasser, and the audience gets to see just how far either will go to resolve or escalate the situation. In this day and age there’d never be a scenario like this, the obvious reason being the extinction of phone-booths, but in the era of social media tech giants there’s just too much information and reaction time available for a situation this intimate to play out to the end. These days this nightmare would take the form of account hacking, an equally terrifying prospect, but a far less lucrative idea for a film. Now, we never really see Sutherland but for a few bleary frames, and he probably just recorded his dialogue from a cushy studio in jammies plastered with the 24 logo, but none of that takes away any of the lupine, icy calm malevolence from his vocal work here, and we believe in the ability of this man to freeze someone in their tracks, not only with a gun but with the power of verbal intonation as well. Farrell uses atypical caged animal intensity to ramp up the tension, and the other players, including Rhada Mitchell as his wife, Jared Leto and a very young looking Katie Holmes do fine by their roles. It’s a little glossy, a little too Hollywood if you know what I mean, but it’s a well oiled thriller nonetheless, with Sutherland’s shrouded, edgy persona being the highlight. 

-Nate Hill

Matthew Bright’s Freeway


Matthew Bright’s Freeway is the most fucked up, disturbing take on the Little Red Riding Hood tale you’ll find, and the only time Reese Witherspoon totally cut loose, got down n’ dirty to truly give a performance straight from the gutter. You can’t spell gutter without gut, which is the primary place this film operates from, gag reflex and all, and the same goes for her wickedly funny firebrand of a performance. The filmmakers have taken every minuscule plot point from Riding Hood and deliberately thought up the most disgusting and deplorable ways to drag them through the mud, churning forth a film that is so sickeningly perverted that you can’t take your eyes or ears off it once, kind of like a fresh, glistening pile of roadkill on the interstate that induces retching, yet is compelling in a sense, even attractive in its ability to morbidly hold your attention by being something that’s outside the norm. Witherspoon is Vanessa Lutz, a trailer park baby who’s been dealt a rough hand in life on all fronts. Her kindly boyfriend (Bokeem Woodbine) is tied up in dat gang life, her mom (Amanda Plummer) is an unstable slut-bag and her stepdad (Michael T. Weiss) has a case of… wandering hands, shall we say. Vanessa picks up and leaves town to go visit her grandmother, but no sooner does she hit the road, she’s tossed from the frying pan right into the fire when she’s picked up by psychiatric counsellor Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland). Bob is your classic clean cut, mild mannered yuppie, save for the fact that he also happens to be a dangerous pedophiliac serial killer, and she’s now in his car. Vanessa is a force to be reckoned with though, as Bob soon finds out, and the two of them wage sleazy war all over the state, until one or both are either dead or incarcerated. It’s so much heinous mayhem and depravity that one reaches saturation point and just had to go with the grimy flow, either that or walk out of the theatre, but that’d make you a bitch. Witherspoon and Sutherland are having a howling good time, each sending up their hollywood image in the type of roles that John Waters or Wayne Kramer would think up some lonely night. Bob is the worst type of offender, and one has to laugh when he’s wheeled into court, facially deformed at the hands of Vanessa, and she proceeds to savagely berate him on his looks, dropping insults that you can hear whistling through the air, delivered like gunshots by Witherspoon, then only barely twenty years old, who has never been this good in any film since. Funnier still is Wolverton’s naive wife looking on in aghast horror as only Brooke Shields can do with that soap opera stare. Other talents include Dan Hedaya as a stoic Detective, Conchata Farrell, Tara Subkoff and Brittany Murphy as a creepy cell mate Vanessa meets while in holding. Anyone claiming to be a fan of Witherspoon who hasn’t seen this just needs to take the time and do so, she’s just the most foul mouthed, violent, adorably profane trashbag pixie you could ever imagine, especially when onscreen with Sutherland, who has never been more evil or intimidating. This is one fairy tale you wouldn’t show the kids, but it still stands as my favourite cinematic version of Riding Hood to this day. There’s a sequel out there somewhere too, but I can’t weigh in on it as I haven’t had the time so far to check it out. I doubt it reaches the heights of sordid delight achieved here though. 

-Nate Hill

Dark Cities, Dark Futures, Dark Caves: An Interview with Bruce Hunt by Kent Hill

Young Bruce Hunt loved movies and blowing things up. This love, and learning the basics of the craft from film magazines of the period, would firmly cement in his mind the path on which he would travel. As it was said in a film that Bruce would later work on, “Fate it seems, is not without a sense of irony,” a teenage Bruce would encounter Academy Award winning special-effects artist Dennis Muren in a cafe in London.

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It was Muren that would advise the dreamer to seek out an effects house in his native Australia for possible future employment and, after art school, that is what the talented Mr. Hunt would do. Working with small production houses on commercials his work would soon catch the eye of the founder of one of these companies, a man named Andrew Mason. It would be Mason, producing a film directed by Alex Proyas called Dark City, that would call on Hunt to bring his passion, and by then, professional eye for effects photography to his first big screen gig.

Work on another big flick would follow, as Mason would again tap Bruce and bring him to work on the Wachowski’s cinematic masterpiece The Matrix. There would be work on the film’s sequels before, at last, Bruce would sit in the director’s chair for The Cave, an adventure in deep terror. He would emerge from the darkness to work on Baz Luhrmann’s Australia only to descend again soon after for Guillermo del Toro’s Don’t be afraid of the Dark.

Through it all his love of the movies continues to drive him and, as you will hear, he has plans to get his visions back on that big screen, just as soon as he can. It was great to sit down with Bruce. Not only is he a filmmaker I admire, but it was great to just talk about movies with him.

If you don’t know his work then now is the time to check it out. But, if you already have and you’re a fan like me – then kick back and enjoy.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my good mate . . . Bruce Hunt

A Time To Kill: A Review by Nate Hill 

Ahh, the courtroom drama. Or, in Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill’s case, the fired up courtroom scorcher. A massive team of actors gather together here to tell the hot blooded tale of one African American man on trial for a brutal murder that is seen by many as justified, but to the prosecutor working the case is just another statistic that will help him vault over the pole to his next suit & tie victory. It’s based on a book by John Grisham, and Schumacher also adapted his story The Client, with admirable but less energetic results. This is one my favourite courtroom films, mainly due to the feverish energy of the American South that thrums beneath events like a heart ready to beat out of its chest. Every character has a mad glint in their eye and an epic film of sweat drenching them, and it’s easy to see why when you examine the high stakes, hot tempered powder keg of a trial they are involved in. Samuel L. Jackson is brilliant as Carl Lee, a simple African man accused of mercilessly gunning down two cracker asses (one of which is a grimy Kiefer Sutherland). These two punks are responsible for the rape and prolonged brutalization of Carl’s twelve year old daughter. A righteous knee jerk reaction for anyone, right? Try convincing a jury in the South of that. Conflict flares up faster than the fire adorning the crosses left on lawns by the arriving KKK, and soon the pressure is on to find the perfect prosecutor and defender for his case. Young upstart Jake Brigans (Matthew McConaughey) is picked to defend, facing off against a seasoned and annoyingly smug prick played by Kevin Spacey. Jake is blessed with the ingenuity and intuition of a law clerk (Sandra Bullock, excellent) and the sagely patronage of a veteran lawman played by a salty Donald Sutherland. It’s a tricky case though, with tempers and racial tension running high and a near constant air of danger for people on both sides of the table. Lee stands by his choice and boils in righteous fury that doesn’t quell the hurt once it’s simmered down, something which Jackson achingly imparts. Jake is swept up in the spectacle of it all, until his relationship with his wife (Ashley Judd) and finally his very life are at stake. Bullock brings the sanity of the big city to this backwater set melodrama and gives some of the best work of the film. Morality is tentatively explored, even though it’s clear as day that Lee was completely justified in his actions, and the outcome of the trial should reflect this. That sentiment is right there with the film’s title. But does it? You’ll have to watch and see. The epic cast lineup also includes work from Oliver Platt, Brenda Fricker, Kurtwood Smith, Charles S. Dutton, Patrick McGoohan, Nicky Katt, Beth Grant, Anthony Heald, Octavia Spencer, M. Emmett Walsh and a moving Chris Cooper in a small role. It’s a long film, but it sustains its energy and pace for the duration, with McConaughey’s refusal to buck the horse and throw the trial a key asset in letting us feel the hurt of a community torn inside out in one act of flagrant evil. It’s up to him and his crew not to right that wrong (realism dictates that it’s too late), but to give a modicum of solace to those further endangered by the very same evil. A winner.