Although billed as pure horror, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors strays into fantasy as well and is a pure blast of fantastically diabolical special effects when it’s working in either genre. Around the middle of the franchise marks the place where Freddy Krueger began to turn into more of a cartoonish wise-guy from his original mainly silent phantom, but he’s still pretty foreboding here, as Robert Englund puts energetic work into both his funny and frightening sides. The cool thing about this flick is it’s ‘Goonies’ style aesthetic; several youngsters, committed to a mental facility for their insomniac ‘delusions’, do dream battle with Freddy, and it’s one of the few instances in a slasher film where victims get to fight back in some capacity, and as a unit. Patricia Arquette is wonderful as Kristen, leader of the pack and a fiercely vulnerable spirit, while a young Laurence Fishburne plays the kindly head nurse. It’s also a treat to see Heather Langenkamp return as brave Nancy Thompson, still out for Freddy’s head. The effects are dazzling, from Freddy’s remodelled syringe needle glove in one scene, to a giant pac-man version of his head attempting to eat a live person whole in another, it’s just imagination run wild in dreamland. The kills are still sufficiently gory too, if punctuated by his now classic growling one liners (“Bitch!”). It’s safe to say this is the best in the franchise barring the first film, it’s quite a bit of fun. Oh, and for a good hearty laugh, nothing beats the Dick Cavett/Zsa Zsa Gabor cameo featuring a priceless interruption from Freddy.
Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River is one of the most gut wrenching, haunting, stressful experiences one can have watching a film, and I’m only talking about the first ten minutes so far. On a quiet 70’s era Boston afternoon, three young boys play street hockey near their homes. After writing their names in freshly lain concrete sidewalk, a sinister ‘police detective’ (John Dolan, who I can never ever see as anyone but this character, he’s that affecting) hassles them and tries to lure the youngsters away. Two of them are wise to his game and escape. The third does not. This crime spurs a ripple effect into the future for these boys, as we see them grow up into very different and equally troubled men. Jimmy (Sean Penn has never been better) is a small time hustler with anger issues, Sean (Kevin Bacon) a cop with his own demons and Dave (Tim Robbins), the boy who was successfully kidnapped and held all those years ago, is a fractured shell of a human whose damaged soul lashes against the whites of his eyes and prevents him from functioning normally. Malcontent comes full circle to find them once again when Jimmy’s young daughter (lovely Emmy Rossum) is found murdered, setting in motion one of the great tragedies you’ll find in cinema this century or last. Eastwood lets his actors quietly emote until the floodgates open and we see raw despair roil forth from three men who are broken in different ways, and how it affects everyone in their lives. Penn is tuned into something higher here, and I’ll not soon forget him arriving at the scene of his daughter’s murder. Robbins let’s the horror of buried trauma deep through the family man facade until we see the deformed psyche left beneath, while Bacon reigns it in for a performance no less memorable than the others. Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney are excellent as Dave and Jimmy’s wives, while Laurence Fishburne provides the faintest ray of humour as Sean’s partner. This is as much a murder mystery as it is an intense interpersonal drama, but the whole story is ruled by emotion; that burning need for revenge from several angles, the hollow pit of loss left behind when someone dies, the psychological scar tissue that trails in the wake of abuse, everything slowly coming to light as the grim, doom laden narrative unfurls. Tom Stern’s camera probes inlets along the harbour, sprawling neighbourhoods and hidden barrooms, Brian Helgeland expertly adapts the novel from Dennis Lehane and Eastwood himself composes a beautiful lament of a score, while the actors turn in galvanizing work. One of the finest films of the last few decades and not one you’re ever likely to forget, once seen.
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.
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
It was a good day for a movie. When is it not? I was home from university and had the agenda to go to a flick that started soon and looked good. Science fiction looked good and I had heard and read little about this new offering from the director of Mortal Kombat, the future impresario of the Resident Evil franchise, Paul W.S. Anderson.
My buddy Paul was just coming out of the theatre, and as it happened he had just watched Event Horizon. I recall him being angry, “That’s shocking, terrible, grotesque,” he said. Well it’s been a while. But I certainly remember the look on his face and he was, for lack of a better word, mortified.
Now when someone tells you not to look at something, what’s the first thing you do? That’s right, you go check it out. I knew I was going to. I knew my friend to be no coward, so I was automatically intrigued by the prospect of seeing this movie that had gotten to him on such a visceral level. I recall him saying, before we parted company, “Don’t waste your time with it,” or something to that effect.
I bullshitted and said sure, don’t worry, I’m seeing a different movie. After that review I was definitely going inside, and the movie I encountered therein was really cool.
Coming out I felt satisfied. The movie worked on all levels. It was terrifying, impactful, funny at the right time, suspenseful, beautifully composed, strongly acted and above all, well written.
The world was not as socially connected at the time. Nor was it part of my complete breakfast during that period to track down and try to arrange interviews with the good people who make the movies.
Behind the scenes material was scant at best, and Event Horizon, no one at the time could have known, would go on to become a cult favorite and get a really nice re-release with a handsome collector case and lots of juicy bonus features. There is a great documentary included, commentary and the likes. But there was little about the film’s author and the script is only a brief part of the BTS discussion.
Fortunately the world has moved on and we are all now accessible via a myriad of networking tools. Thus it was my good fortune to finally get in touch with and interview the very excellent screenwriter and all-round gentleman Philip Eisner. The man who was once locked away with nothing but The Road Warrior for a week, was an absolute pleasure to interview.
I feel, like I often do, when talking to the makers of my favorite films, like I’m getting the commentary track that should be included with the feature. After all, it is the with the screenwriter that these journey’s begin.
As I like to keep things as informal as possible, our chat was not restricted to Event Horizon. We discussed Philip’s journey to writing, the genesis of the script, how sometimes you homage and other times steal, what he thought of Rogue One (’cause us Star Wars boys can’t help ourselves), how it’s easier to say “No” in Hollywood and much more.
I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did and, in case you have wanted to know more about the true gem that is Event Horizon, or were looking for an excuse to watch it, if indeed you haven’t already…
Well now folks . . . you’ll see.
Homesteading. Many years ago, when land was plenty, the government offered it to people who were willing to till the soil, grow some crops. Perhaps raise a family. It was not an easy life. In fact, you could probably retire today and still be tilling soil.
What in the world does this have anything to do with Morten Tyldum’s (“The Imitation Game”) new sci-fi film, “Passengers”?
Very little or quite a bit; it really depends on your point of view. The intent of the government was to get people to become productive because they had no other choice: they were cornered into a unique way of life that not everyone is cut out for.
In Jon Spahits’ (“Doctor Strange”, “Prometheus”) script, the meaning of homesteading, “a lifestyle of agrarian self-sufficiency as practiced by a modern homesteader or urban homesteader,” equally applies to the 5000 corporately-sponsored passengers aboard the Starship Avalon, destined for the colony planet Homestead II.
The trick is that the journey is so long, everyone on board is in hibernation and the state-of-the-art starship is on auto-pilot. An engineer, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is woken up alone with no explanation and no one to communicate with. He is eventually joined by author Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). As the only two souls awake on board the ship, they fall in love but not before disaster strikes. Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia co-star.
Spahits’ script should have checked all the right boxes: characters are well-fleshed out; the set-up was strong; social issues are at the forefront. The focus strayed from sci-fi-adventure to kitschy sci-fi-adventure-romance, where the romance just didn’t cut it. Preston’s reason for being woken up is clear; the emotional side of isolation became a focus instead of allowing his skills to move the character and the narrative forward, leading to the intended romantic angle; a wasted effort considering Jennifer Lawrence’s Lane tried too hard to remain in control, though her reasons for that become clear after a meltdown. Had Fishburne phoned his performance from Earth, it would have been more convincing then what unfolded on the screen. In homage to a Kubrick classic, Michael Sheen stole the show; but his role in a pivotal moment just fell flat. Tight editing by Oscar-nominated editor Maryann Brandon (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) keeps the pacing on track.
The script notwithstanding, there is one redeeming reason why this should be viewed on as big a screen as possible: the special effects. In the tradition of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Scott’s “Alien”, Tyldum executes a strong, detailed technical look.
From the symmetry of the Avalon to the look and feel of the interior corridors, the hibernation pods, the stars and space around the ship, everything has a very real or visceral feel about it and visual effects supervisor Erik Nordby rose to the challenge brilliantly. The effects are supported by strong cinematography from the Oscar-nominated Rodrigo Prieto (“Brokeback Mountain”). His attention to every detail, from lighting of cavernous interior spaces, to changing reflective lighting and exterior shots in space, Prieto’s work only enhances the visual impact.
Oscar-nominated film composer Thomas Newman (“Bridge of Spies”, “Skyfall”) resonates with the luxuriousness of the Aurora and the allure of space exploration. Some of his dramatic riffs didn’t exactly jive with the onscreen action, but his music served the film well.
“Passengers” had all the right ingredients for a stellar show, its ambition steeped in “Titanic”. Instead, its ‘Lost in Space’ meets ‘The Love Boat’ with all the drama that that entails.
For the intricately detailed technical effects work, “Passengers” is Recommended. Aaron Spelling is probably rolling over in his grave.
Assault On Precinct 13 is less of a remake of John Carpenter’s balls out, guerilla action treatise and more of a branch off into timeless, near western archetypes, as well as the good old siege thriller format. It’s also one of the meanest, grittiest cop films of the last few decades, deserving a higher rung on the ladder of adoration than it has so far ascended to. Dark, merciless and full of yuletide gallows humour, it’s a searing blast of gunfire and snowbound pulp starring a roster of fired up talent, starting with an intense Ethan Hawke and an unpredictable, predatory Laurence Fishburne. Fishburne is Marion Bishop, a legendary criminal kingpin wrapped tight in police custody and shipped off to a remote precinct on New Years eve with a busload of fellow prisoner transports. The station is run by a few relaxed cops, all preparing to punch that clock and get the New Year’s festivities underway. Unfortunately, a gang of corrupt detectives have other ideas, descending upon the ill guarded outpost with the fury and firepower of animals set loose, determined to murder everyone inside and level the place to the ground in order to cover up their actions. Hawke is the veteran cop with a dodgy undercover past, blessed with the grit and gristle necessary to rally the troupes and self preserve til the morning light. Drea De Matteo, who’s awesome and welcome in anything, is a tough female sergeant, Maria Bello the sharp police psychiatrist caught in the middle, Brian Dennehy the salty old dog, and a laundrey list of rabid felons who pitch in to save their own asses, including Ja Rule, Aisha Hinds, Currie Graham and a wired up John Leguizamo. Together they all make a veritable wild bunch to hold down the fort, but the forces they’re up against are tactical and terrifying. The opposition is headed up by a dangerously quiet Gabriel Byrne as deeply a corrupt Police Captain, doing a coiled viper rendition of a Christopher Walken villain, his work one of the strongest aspects of the film. Watch for Matt Craven and Kim Coates in brief cameos as well. The action is a ballistic blitzkrieg of firefights, standoffs and ditch efforts, scarcely giving the audience time to breathe, let alone tally up the casualties, of which there are many. This ain’t no cakewalk, in terms of action films. It’s down, dirty and has no time for quips, smart mouths or villains that monologue. Everyone involved in a caged animal prepared to go to extremes at the drop of a hat in order to achieve their goals, with kneejerk reactions and off the cuff violence that feels real, and cuts deep. If you are serious about your action films, and enjoy ruthless, non patronizing narratives that get as cold as the snow drifts surrounding the precinct and as casually indifferent as the bullets that ventilate it, this is your ticket.
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club is every bit as dazzling, chaotic and decadent as one might imagine the roaring twenties would have been. it’s set in and revolves around the titular jazz club, conducting a boisterous, kaleidoscope study of the various dames, dapper gents, hoodlums, harlots and musicians who called it home. Among them are would be gangster Dixie Dwyer (a slick Richard Gere), Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines), a young Bumpy Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) and renowned psychopathic mobster Dutch Schultz (a ferocious James Remar). Coppola wisely ducks a routine plot line in favor of a helter skelter, raucous cascade of delirious partying, violence and steamy romance, a stylistic choice almost reminiscent of Robert Altman. Characters come and go, fight and feud, drink and dance and generally keep up the kind of manic energy and pizazz that only the 20’s could sustain. The cast is positively stacked, so watch for appearances from Nicolas Case, Bob Hoskins, Diane Lane, John P. Ryan, James Russo, Fred Gwynne, Allen Garfield, Ed O Ross, Diane Venora, Woody Strode, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Cobbs, Sofia Coppola and singer Tom Waits as Irving Stark, the club’s owner. It’s a messily woven tapestry of crime and excess held together by brief encounters, hot blooded conflict and that ever present jazz music which fuels the characters along with the perpetual haze of booze and cigarette smoke. Good times.