Tag Archives: Matt Craven

“We’ve got some unique time constraints.” : Remembering Déjà Vu with Bill Marsilii by Kent Hill

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Initially I felt the same way about Déjà Vu as I did Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. Both of the inaugural screenings I attended were sullied by external forces which greatly influenced my mood during the viewings and thus, my opinion of the films.

But time, it was once said, is the ultimate critic. Under different circumstances I watched both films again, and, this time around, my feelings toward both movies were drastically adjusted.

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In several books on the art of screenwriting it is often put about that, if you cannot sum up the film you are writing in a single sentence, then you may want to rethink the plot. There is a great moment on the commentary track of this film in which the late, great Tony Scott admits that even he struggled to distill Déjà Vu into the logline form.

It’s a science-fiction/action/thriller/time-travel/romance in which the hero, Denzel Washington, meets the girl he will eventually fall in love with on the slab – dead as disco. Unbeknownst to him, he will eventually join a team that will, along with the help of a device that can see into the past, aid him in bringing her killer to justice. And it was from this humble yet intriguing premise that my guest, Bill Marsilii and his co-writer Terry Rossio constructed this rich, multi-layered tale which deserves more applause than some would proffer for its inventiveness and compelling real-world take on the age old time machine story.

 

But what I uncovered as I spoke to Bill was far more than a series of behind the scenes anecdotes and your typical boy meets idea, boy turns idea into a screenplay, screenplay sells for big dollars, boy lives happily and successfully ever after in Hollywood kind of scenario.

And yes, while it is true that Déjà Vu is the highest earning spec script thus far, beating out other entries like Basic Instinct, Panic Room and The Last Boy Scout, the story of how Bill came to, not only the concept, but how the writing and selling of the script changed his life is just as compelling as anything Jerry Bruckheimer and Co. managed to get onto the screen.

 

This interview, at least for me, proved also to be somewhat of a masterclass in, not only screenwriting, but the ever painful and soul-crushing journey the writer must endure to actually sell the script. It’s about the luck, timing, persistence and internal fortitude that you must have sufficient quantities to survive the gauntlet that exists between the page and the screen.

Bill’s heart-warming, inspirational adventure to make it in the realm where dreams are brought to life with that strange blending of art, science and commerce – that ultimately no one can tell you how, when a film is successful, it all comes together in the perfect proportions to ensure success is on the menu – is a conversation that could have gone on and on.

I hope you’ll will enjoy some extended insights into Déjà Vu, but more than that, I hope you, if you are one of those dreamers still out there trying to write your own ticket to cinematic glory, that Bill’s wisdom you’ll take onboard and continue pounding away on those keys until fortune smiles and your efforts will be coming soon, to a theater near us…

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Bill Marsilii . . .

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Assault On Precinct 13: A Review by Nate Hill 

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. 

Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide: A Review by Nate Hill 

In terms of submarine movies, nothing will light your fire or get your pulse racing quite like Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide (well maybe Das Boot, but that’s another story). Scott just has this way with hyper kinetic tension and a knack for causing whirlwinds of propulsive energy in his work, and even when the material is more melancholy there is still a rousing climate to every frame. Pair his visual skill with Quentin Tarantino’s sterling (and uncredited) ear for dialogue and you’ve got one simmering package. Not too mention the actors and the blood stirring score from Hans Zimmer which is one of the composer’s best and richly orchestrated works. This is the second time Tarantino and Scott have done the writer director duo, albeit the lesser of the two films, it’s still a stunner. When lunatic Russian extremist Vladimir Radchenko (Daniel Von Bargen, RIP) goes off in a huff and threatens nuclear warfare, the Yanks get nervous and send in an ace in the hole submarine loaded with warheads of it’s own, cause, you know, ‘just in case.’ The vessel is captained by an intense and corrosive Gene Hackman, backed by a more reserved and introverted Denzel Washington. The two clash right off the bat and its obvious that fireworks of conflict will erupt between them once the shit hits the propeller. It soon does, in the form of a command order that is partly lost in translation. It could mean go ahead and fire the nukes on Radchenko. It also could not. Hackman, that spitfire, wants to engage and eradicate any chance of action on the extremist’s part. Washington insists on holding back, terrified by uncertainty. This troublesome personal disagreement eventually leads to flat out mutiny amongst the crew, in more ways than one. The crew has no concrete leader to direct their devotion to, and that’s a dangerous thing aboard a military vessel. Hackman and Washington are pure electricity as opposite sides of the same coin, facing off in a claustrophobic arena where one wrong move could end up in cataclysm. Along with internal disruption concerning the crew, there’s also the fact that they’re on a submarine miles below the surface to contend with, and it’s one whopper of a suspense cocktail. Viggo Mortensen is terrific in a conflicted supporting role, and watch for solid turns from Danny Nucci, George Dzunda, Matt Craven, Ryan Phillipe, Steve Zahn, Chris Ellis and a fiery James Gandolfini. Ooo and Jason Robards in an uncredited cameo, which he’s also done for Scott in Enemy Of The State. It’s pure movie bliss, but what can you expect from Scott other than the cream of the crop? The guy gave us pure gold for decades, bless his soul, and this is one of his best.

Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder: A Review by Nate Hill 

  

Few supernatural horror films tap into the abstract realm of the unconscious quite as effectively as Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder. There’s a select group out there who have done it as well (Tarsem Singh with The Cell, Hellraiser and Silent Hill come to mind), but there’s just such an abundance of generic, or ‘vanilla’ horror out there. It’s not that that kind of stuff isn’t great, I just like to see something strive for a little more, stylistically speaking, go for something truly elemental and out of the box in its attempts to elicit fright. This one engraves nightmares of an inexplicable variety into your perception, images and sounds made all the more disturbing by the fact that we never really know what is going on with our protagonist, a Viet Nam vet named Jacob (Tim Robbins), a decent dude with a sketchy past who spends his days as a postal worker in NYC. Jacob is plagued by waking nightmares, visions of demons, confusing allusions to his past and a son (a pre Home Alone Macauley Culkin) who may have died, or never existed at all, all combined with a general sense of dread that almost seems to crawl out of the screen and choke the viewer. Jacob is dating a co worker (RIP Elizabeth Pena), who isn’t equipped to deal with whatever is going on with him, and his only friend seems to be his doting chiropractor Louis, played by an excellent Danny Aiello in a performance that is a ray of kindness and light in an otherwise ice cold atmospheric palette. Jacob begins to suspect that he and his platoon may have been victims of illegal weapons gas testing, and are now suffering the psychological fallout, or perhaps that his plight goes much deeper than that. It’s a disorienting state of mind for him, and in turn puts the viewer in a similar daze of eeriness and uncertainty, with not a concrete clue or answer in sight until the film reaches its devastating final moments. Ving Rhames, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Eriq La Salle and Matt Craven are just as haunted as his fellow Nam buddies, Jason Alexander has an energetic bit as a lawyer, and watch for Kyle Gass, Orson Bean and Lewis Black in early smaller roles. This film has put a hazy emotional and visual filter over my perception for years, and each time I give it another visit I get goosebumps from the horrors within, especially on a crisp recent blu Ray. There’s one sequence in particular which I won’t spoil with details, except to say it should be front and centre on the demo reel for the entire horror genre in cinema, a harrowing journey into a hellishly creative interzone of undefinable fear that still serves as the blueprint for some of my bad dreams to this day. A fright flick classic.

Richard Donner’s Timeline: A Review by Nate Hill

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I really enjoyed Richard Donner’s Timeline, despite some bad reviews and an awful reputation. It’s based on a book by the great Michael Crichton, and centers around what is one of the most fascinating and enjoyable premises out there: time travel. There’s nothing like a time travel flick, in any way, shape or form. I’m a sucker for them. This one starts off with an archeological dig somewhere in England, leading to the abrupt discovery of forces that allow a wormhole in time to be used, sending people back to the middle ages. Paul Walker discovers that his researcher father (Billy Connolly) has made the leap back in time, and may be in trouble. Along with his sort of girlfriend (Frances O Connor) and his father’s friend (Gerard Butler) they venture back to find him, and of course everything goes wrong. They land smack in the middle of a skirmish between a poncy English lord (Michael Sheen) and the leader of the French faction (Lambert Wilson), with no identities, nothing to defend themselves with and not a clue what to do. Back home in our time (or, rather, 2003. Time flies, don’t it?), the head of the program responsible for harnessing the wormhole’s power (a slimy David Thewlis) is a greedy prick who can’t really be trusted with the technology, prompting the suspicion of his assistant (Matt Craven). Walker, Butler and company are now faced with a full on castle siege that’s quite the dandy set piece, forced to take up arms and fight for their lives as well as a way home. Walker is amusingly out of place in a medieval setting but it works considering the plot. Butler is terrific, bringing his old world style to a character arc that is lovely to see play out. Connolly, although not in the film that much, lights up the screen with his genial kindness and likability that he brings to every film. Neal McDonough, Anna Friel and Marton Csokas also costar. It’s simply an adventure piece that doesn’t think logistics too much, and in turn doesn’t require you to do so either. Underrated stuff.

Chattahoochee: A Review by Nate Hill

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Chattahoochee tells the sad and disturbing tale of Emmett Foley (Gary Oldman) a Korean War veteran who has returned home with severe PTSD. In a tragic and scary sequence, he shoots up his neighborhood in confusion and fear, injuring himself in the process. He is then sent to a ‘maximum security’ mental facility, and anyone who has heard what places like that were like in the 1950’s cam imagine what he’s in for next. The place is an unkempt, filthy sinkhole where the inmates are abused, neglected and subjected to inhuman maltreatment. So now, in addition to dealing with his mental illness, Emmet must witness this miscarriage of medical treatment on a daily basis, and suffer through it himself. He is befriended by deceptively cavalier Walker Benson (a funny and touching Dennis Hopper), and the two of them try to seek out better treatment and conditions for their fellow inmates. Only problem is, the beauricratic faction doesn’t want to hear any of this, stone walling and throwing it in their faces with callous indifference. It becomes the struggle of Emmet’s lifetime to win the day against this rotten system, and he’s aided by his sister (Frances Mcdormand) in his efforts. Oldman is as intense as you’d imagine with subject matter like this, an implosive tsunami of dread and outrage as he both bears witness and cries out in protest. Ned Beatty plays a nasty doctor, and there’s also work from Matt Craven, Gary Bullock, M. Emmett Walsh, Richard Portnow and Pamela Reed. This one is tough to find, and a tad forgotten, but it’s worth the hunt. It’s also based on a true story about a real veteran  named Christopher Calhoun, who later wrote a book detailing his experiences. Harrowing, but important stuff.