Tag Archives: Michael Parks

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Michael Parks Performances

Michael Parks was one of those actors who could light up a scene, and although you hear similes like that thrown around about a whole lot of people on the business, he was one that more than deserved to have it applied in his work. Originally gaining traction in the 60’s and 70’s for television, feature films and westerns, Parks was put on the Hollywood blacklist for simply standing up to the integrity of a character/show he was working on, a testament to his spirit and refusal to let the work be anything but top notch. The latter half of his career saw him resurrected with a vengeance by the likes of Kevin Smith, Quentin and others and it was here that he provided us with some truly unique, compelling performances. Here are my personal top ten!

10. Esteban Vihaio in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2

His second role in the Kill Bill films sees him embody a mercurial Mexican pimp who provides the story with some purring exposition and Uma Thurman’s The Bride with vital information whilst slyly hitting on her at the same time. It’s only a quick scene but he grounds it with some deft humour and relishes every syllable of the Latin accent.

9. Dr. Banyard in Deceiver

More exposition! This is a weird little 90’s neo-noir about two troubled Detectives (Michael Rooker and Chris Penn) investigating the murder of a hooker (Renee Zellweger). Parks plays the psychiatrist they consult about a creepy suspect (Tim Roth) who suffers from a rare type of epilepsy. He’s essentially laying out information for the audience here but Michael was one of those rare actors who could do that and tell you so much about his character without, you know, *actually* telling you. This is pretty obscure for a such a great cast but it’s worth seeking out.

8. Abin Cooper in Kevin Smith’s Red State

Terrifying is the word for him here, playing the maniacal patriarch of a bunch of backwoods extremists who make the Westboro Baptist Church look like choirboys. The key is in the soft spoke dialogue, letting his energy simmer on the back burner so that when the fire and brimstone portion of his performance does show up, it blindsides us.

7. Doc Barrow in Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are

A small town doctor who gets suspicious when people including his wife go missing near a secluded rural area, Barrow discovers a family of cannibals living in the hills and must fend them off. This is a brilliant slow burn horror with solid performances all round but it’s his keen, quiet and observant husband who wins the day and becomes the most memorable.

6. Tommy O’Shea in Death Wish V: The Face Of Death

O’Shea is a reprehensible piece of shit Irish mobster who isn’t above threatening or killing women and children and rules his district with casual Joker-esque brutality until, naturally, Charles Bronson kicks the piss out of him. He’s one of the most memorable villains of the franchise in ironically the least memorable film it has to offer, but oh well. He redeems the film with his thoroughly evil portrayal and has a lot of fun along the way.

5. Ronny ‘Del’ Delany in The Hitman

This is essentially just another carbon copy, subpar Chuck Norris action flick but Michael owns villain duties as Chuck’s scumbag partner who betrays and tries to kill him. He’s only in the beginning and end of the film but the character bookends the whole thing and provides a classy, dashing evil prick to do battle with the hero. Too bad he doesn’t win in the end, because he’s eternally more watchable than that goofy ass cocker spaniel Norris.

4. Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter

Real life poet Bierce really did disappear, although he likely didn’t end up in an Aztec vampire bordello like this film imagines. Parks made an appearance in the first Dusk film and gets the lead here, making Bierce a well read, hard drinking, sardonic badass who totally steals the show.

3. Howard Howe in Kevin Smith’s Tusk

How do you bring dimension to the role of a walrus obsessed serial killer? Start by being Michael Parks. Smith gave him the role of a lifetime here and he chews it up enthusiastically, hitting so many notes in his performance that one could write a dissertation on the character. He makes the guy a monster, no doubt. But a funny ass monster, one with depth, charisma and the magnetism to pull off such an absurd premise.

2. Jean Renault in Twin Peaks

This masterful show is jam packed with villains both earthbound and of other planes so the competition to leave a lasting impression is high. Parks showed up during a season two creative drought as Renault, a psychopathic French Canadian drug kingpin with a taste for blood and the nerve to back it up. Stylish, confident and venomous, he’s one of the show’s great antagonist arcs and plus the dude has a retractable dagger up his sleeve, it doesn’t get any cooler than that.

1. Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1/Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn/Planet Terror

Parks is so good as McGraw that the character is pretty much an archetype by now, appearing multiple times across the Tarantino/Rodriguez multiverse to battle zombies, investigate the El Paso wedding chapel massacre and lament that retards are allowed to operate BBQ stands. The laconic nature, laidback yet keen attitude and no nonsense demeanour of this guy makes him stand out in whichever scene he chooses to amble in and grace his true blue presence with.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more content!

-Nate Hill

Kevin Smith’s Tusk

I cant imagine studios giving the green light to anything as fucking deranged as Tusk, so thank god we have Kevin Smith to take the backroad channels through the system in getting it to us. This is one disturbing, bizarre, unclassifiable and defiantly loopy piece of Midnite-Movie horror madness that has to be seen and heard to be believed. It’s also pretty damn entertaining and well done considering, you know, it’s about a serial killer who anatomically transforms his victims into walruses.

Now Smith aside there is one key element that makes the film work, and without it I’m sure this would have been a resounding failure or nowhere as close to the inspired piece of abstract theatre it turned out to be. That element is the late Michael Parks, a brilliant but blacklisted character actor who saw glorious resurrection in both Smith and Quentin Tarantino’s work, bless their nostalgic hearts. He’s a masterful actor that never got his proper due but Smith lets him have a twilight encore here as Howard Howe, a lonely old freak-show who once spent days at sea marooned with only a walrus for company and just can’t let the companionship go. Why he doesn’t go rip off the local zoo and nab the real thing is his business but for whatever reason he sees fit to drug, imprison and mutilate victims to suit his needs. His latest is a brash, asshole podcaster from LA who travels up to Howe’s Canadian neck of the woods to interview him and finds his endeavour getting a bit more hands on than he planned. His fellow podcaster (Haley Joel Osment who first saw dead people and then the McDonald’s drive thru, it seems) and girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) attempt rescue by joining forces with French Canadian Detective Guy Lapointe, played by Johnny Depp in a performance so indescribably, hilariously off key that I could employ every adjective under the sun to impart it and still not quite capture the essence.

“The things your generation can get away with” observes Howe when told about the wonders of the internet and podcasting. He’s more right then he knows because in Parks’ heyday this film would either be buried deep in Grindhouse theatre town or not even made at all. Smith doesn’t half ass this or turn it into a lame SyFy original style monster flick, but takes these characters seriously even when they’re ludicrous and the result is something that defies explanation and shuns derision. Parks gives what might be the performance of his career, finding so many different notes in Howe’s soul that one might write a dissertation on this guy. He’s simultaneously ghoulish, endearing, captivating, terrifying and so over the top he circles back and reaches the realm of subtlety again. Depp is amazing, his Québécois accent a thing of misguided beauty (America’s vision of Canada is always consistently adorable) in several droning monologues that could be performance art. He has a flashback scene with Parks in which the guy uses a retarded vernacular to avoid detection and the whole thing is so maniacally staged it feels like a dream or something. For better or worse I’m glad this thing got made, Smith dives headlong into waters he knows are outlandish but cares not for mockery or ridicule (which he unfortunately gets aplenty) and I admire him for that. I loved this crazy flick, it’s as funny as it is scary and the power that everyone involved finds in a story so bizarre as this is something else.

-Nate Hill

Robert Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are good buddies and have always sort of played on each other’s side of the fence in terms of creativity, collaborating here and there over the years on cool stuff, but my favourite tandem venture they ever did has to be From Dusk Till Dawn, a crime horror action schlock hybrid that has aged beautifully over the years, doesn’t fuck around in terms of packing a punch in all of the specific genres it works in and is a glowing testament to the powers of practical/prosthetic effects over CGI.

The first half of this thing is a classic Tarantino slow burn: George Clooney and Quentin himself are the Gecko brothers, a pair of murderous bank robbers in swanky suits, on the run from southern law following a bank robbery bloodbath (never actually seen a lá Reservoir Dogs) and causing violent trouble all over the rest of the state. After narrowly escaping Michael Parks’s immortal Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, they kidnap a retired preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his two kids (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) and make a beeline for the Mexican border and the sanctuary of an impossibly rowdy strip joint and trucker bar called… wait for it… The Titty Twister.

Once at the bar Rodriguez takes over the reins and in a split second we segue into horror most gory as our unconventional protagonists realize that this bar is actually a nest of Mexican vampires, and they’re ready to spring the trap. This includes an unbearably sexy dance from Salma Hayek’s vamp queen Santanico Pandemonium, a biker named Sex Machine (Tom Savini) with guns where his guns are, a literal army of hairy undead beasts, a giant rat, a human spinal column used as a saxophone, crossbows, more gallons of blood and various gore than I’ve ever seen amassed for one film and just too much else to mention.

For most folks, the first half of this film is the pay-dirt; Tarantino’s laconic, dangerous approach to the Gecko brothers’s rampage is no doubt one of the coolest things he’s written, particularly the sequence with Michael Parks and any dialogue between Keitel and Clooney, who gives probably the most fun and uninhibited performance of his career. Tarantino chomps at the bit and is downright terrifying as the worst kind of unstable psychopath, it’s the best acting work he’s ever done. I myself prefer the latter half with all the horror though.. the sheer amount of gooey lunacy, latex drenched creativity in design is something you don’t see anymore, unless it’s a deliberate throwback. The bar is populated by what seems like hundreds of varied and equally disgusting bloodsuckers until after a while and dozens of kills you get the sense that every character needs a good shower. Keitel brings a grizzled nobility to the priest, while Lewis tones down her usual bubbly mania for something decidedly more down to earth. Danny Trejo plays a grumpy vamp bartender, blaxploitation icon Fred Williamson shows up as a badass Nam vet and watch for cameos from John Hawkes, Greg Nicorato, Kelly Preston and 70’s icon John Saxon. Cheech Marin also shows up of course, in three obviously different roles because why the fuck not and has a monologue that would burn the ears off of any conservative viewer. Some will say this film is too much, and hey I’m not one to argue with them, but for me if it’s too much of anything, it’s a good thing. The horror is old school schlock-schploitation and the hard boiled crime yarn that comes before is equally stylistic and fun. It’s Quentin and Robert attuned to different wavelengths but somehow on the same frequency, and the result is a bloody, chaotic horror crime western classic.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: El Muerto aka The Dead One

So imagine The Crow but like… based around Aztec/Day of the dead style mythology and starring Fez from That 70’s Show as a young man brought back from the dead as a supernatural zombie. Sounds to random to actually exist, right? Well it’s out there, it’s called The Dead One in some regions and El Muerto in others and… it’s something. I can’t quite say that as a compliment because it’s so goddamn low budget and cheesy, but I will say that a valiant effort is made, there’s a lot of heart behind it, plus some terrific actors having fun too.

Unfortunately Wilmer Valderrama will forever and always be known as Fez no matter what else he does and will never live that character down, but he does his best to be dark, smouldering and edgy here as Diego De La Muerte, who is killed in a car crash one night and resurrected as a badass monster with face paint and superpowers by the Mayan god of death. He’s marked as a boy in an opening flashback by a spooky Old Indian shaman (the great Billy Drago, who passed a few days ago) but what he doesn’t read in the fine print is that the God basically owns his soul and commands his every move once he’s undead. This leads to a fight for freedom and the love of his life (Angie Cepeda) who he left behind.

Soon the God manifests in reality as a creepy old witch type thing (again played by Drago, really outdoing himself with the scenery chewing here, as he was always famous for) and he has to fight the thing as well as evade a suspicious county Sheriff played by the legendary Michael Parks, who is also no longer with us. Other appearances are noted from Tony Plana as a priest, Joel David Moore’s as his best friend and the iconic Maria Conchita Alonso.

Man I really want to recommend this because I’m a lot more generous than most with this type of fare but I can’t because it’s essentially a pretty fucking awful film, not gonna lie. Shoddy special effects, cheesy dialogue, cheap looking cinematography, this one has it all. But hey, if you give it a go you’ll always be able to say that you saw a movie where Fez from That 70’s Show plays an Aztec zombie, so there’s that. Plus the thing is kinda fun in its own lovable horror flick way. It’s based on some cult comic series which I’ve never read but if anyone has, let me know how this holds up against the source material.

-Nate Hill

Harvey Hart’s BUS RILEY’S BACK IN TOWN

If the Eagle’s LYIN’ EYES was a film, it would most certainly be Harvey Hart’s BUS RILEY’S BACK IN TOWN. The perverse and transgressive drama features an exceptional cast led by Michael Parks and Ann-Margret with supporting turns by Kim Darby, Brad Dexter, Brett Sommers, and David Carradine. The film has the Old Hollywood look of silky black and white, sharp camera work, and two beautiful movie stars, but with New Hollywood themes; homosexuality, adultery, apathy, and a man’s penchant for underage girls. 

Michael Parks brings his all as a young man recently returned from a two-year stint in the Navy, tattooed with his love for Ann-Margret on his forearm, only to find that she had married a rich old man. Angst and apathy engulf Parks has he walks the streets of his old town, smoking cigarettes and drinking beers with David Carradine, he drifts in his home town, as he zigzags between jobs, all the while trying to avoid the nostalgically emotional traps Ann-Margret lays for him. 

The more “controversial” themes of the film are mainly left to not just the viewer’s interpretation, but their intellect. It is not that Parks’ fondness for high school girls comes off predatory or aggressive, it is difficult to dissect if it something that is consciously doing or subconsciously. He isn’t a sexual predator, but it certainly is not a coincidence either. 

Ann-Margret is wickedly fun in this film. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and my oh my, does she know how to arrange things. She’s the best kind of femme fatal; sexy, alluring, yet deep down inside of her lay a turmoil with no resolution, no end in site – she is destined to be vapid and hollow for eternity. She is magnificent in this role in a beautiful showboat of a performance. 

BUS RILEY’S BACK IN TOWN is the epitome of a “sleeper”, it’s a film that is underseen, and due to its racy subject matter, is a film that more than likely did not find its proper audience upon its release, and still has yet to find home video distribution in any region. While the film is tame, by today’s standards and those of other late 60s and 70s films – given the context, the film is well crafted and features a young Michael Parks whose on-screen charm and aesthetic would give James Dean a run for his money any day.

Quentin Tarantino’s kill bill volume i

“You know, I bet I could fry an egg on your head right about now, if I wanted to.”

What was once a film that would star Warren Beatty in the title role, wherein Bill would have been more James Bond and less David Carradine, tensions mounted as production stalled due to Uma Thurman’s pregnancy. Beatty grew impatient with not only the delay in production, but the constant reference to Beatty playing the role like Carradine would. Beatty inevitably left the picture, imploring Tarantino to cast the only actor alive or dead to play Bill, David Carradine.

The film marks one of Tarantino’s most dynamic screenplays, a soundtrack featuring score tracks only used in other films films, Robert Richardson’s richly fulfilling cinematography, and an ensemble bread from his most organically diverse cast.

What is encompassed within is his most seminal and homage laden film to date is referencing everything from Mark Goldblatt’s THE PUNISHER, to the STREET FIGHTER films, with a ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST capstone.

This isn’t just some hardcore, stylishly sexy revenge flick (which it is), at its heart is a story about a scorn lover whose hubris sets a deadly chain of events in motion. Bill, who is only heard and whose hands and boots are only seen, loves the heroine so much, he would rather kill her than to be without her. Potent stuff.

What ensues is a tale of bloody revenge where Tarantino’s most ass-kicking character stops at nothing to exact a near equal measure of revenge to those who killed what was supposed to be the greatest day of her life, marrying “some fucking jerk” and leaving behind her life of being a member of the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad.

In the Tarantino-Verse, things get much more colorful and downright self indulgent, but baby, it is absolutely glorious.

Uma Thurman gets shot in the head, Daryl Hannah is featured in the best Brian De Palma homage ever, Michael Madsen acts as the thread that directly leads into the second volume, Production I.G. came in and did an amazing animated segment, RZA supplied the sound effects, Lucy Liu gets a reintroduction sequence that any actor would kill for; not to mention getting scalped, Sonny Chiba gives an encore as Hatori Hanzo, Michael Parks returns as Sheriff Earl McGraw, Vivica A. Fox delivers one of the most memorable on screen deaths in a QT movie, and David Carradine is the man.

None of that even begins to scratch the surface.

The first volume of KILL BILL is what rebirthed Tarantino into an acutely self righteous auteur. Making films for not just his rabid and loyal fanbase, but most importantly films that he, as a passionate fanboy of cinema, would want to see on screen.

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof

Death Proof is regarded as the weakest link in Quentin Tarantino’s work, but in a career so consistently awesome does that really matter much? It might be weirdly paced and the inherent schlock in trying to recreate the Grindhouse aesthetic makes it hard to take seriously but it’s still a sterling flick in my book and one fucking wild ride at the movies.

I wasn’t around for the Grindhouse era but it seems to me like Quentin and Robert Rodriguez only partially aped the vibe and sort of trail blazed through their own stuff instead of sticking strictly to routine like, say, Hobo With A Shotgun did. It’s a good thing too, because you wouldn’t want two creative wellsprings like these filmmakers limited to doing something that’s cheap to its bones and has little innovation. As such (with QT’s half of the double bill anyways) we get something that’s a healthy compromise of balls out Mad Max style vehicular bedlam and leisurely paced, character heavy interludes of dialogue, which is of course his trademark. There are an absolute ton of characters here, but naturally the one that showboats across centre stage is Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike, a charming but sadistic serial killer who mows down and decimates innocent women in his souped up Dodge Charger. That of course fills up the back half of the film, while initially we are treated to a solid chunk that sees different groups of girls bicker, banter, discourse on everything from John Hughes’ films to the benefits and drawbacks of being a semi-famous radio DJ and generally have a good time. Usually when you think of showcase Tarantino dialogue and characters this film wouldn’t enter the running, and I’m not sure why, he writes some of the most wonderful parts here and these gals positively act the pants off of them to the point that when the highway mayhem kicks in, you’re almost disappointed that the round table discussions and quirky friendships are done with. Russell is absolute perfection and seems born to play this peculiar villain. He’s so charming that bad vibes aren’t even perceived, and even later when he gets downright psychotic there’s this fourth wall breaking sheepishness that gets chuckles instead of screams, especially in the end when he turns into a big baby. My favourite of the gals has to be Vanessa Ferlito as sultry Arlene, Rosario Dawson as tomboyish Abernathy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as sensitive Lee and Sydney Tamiia Poitier as aforementioned DJ Jungle Julia. Others are fantastic too including Jordan Ladd, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thomas, Marcy Harriell, Helen Kim, Tina Rodriguez and Rose McGowan as angelic Pam, who squares off against Mike in both the funniest and scariest sequence of the film. Watch for cameos from several of the Inglorious Basterds as well as a brief turn from Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks).

The film consists mostly of two things: girls hanging around in apartments, cars and bars talking and beautiful old muscle cars playing havoc along the interstate. When you have Quentin at the helm providing pages of wonderful dialogue and overseeing practical effects based car chases, it makes for something endlessly fun. I saw this as a double bill alongside Rodriguez’s sometimes fun, often lame Planet Terror and viewed together is enough content to melt both brain and eyeballs, especially when you consider that they each have generous runtimes. This is the better of the two films and I think they should be viewed separately as their own entity. Not the weakest thing Quentin has done (Hateful Eight bears that crown for me) and so much more fun than people remember or give it credit for.

-Nate Hill