Tag Archives: Movies

Gore Verbinski’s Rango

Gore Verbinski’s Rango is a wonder among animated films. Naturally the colourful, larger than life medium lends itself to the eyes, ears and hearts of children, which is the direction most of them take. But Rango presents a mature, raunchy, surreal, absurd spectacle rife with a mischievous buzz and peppered with laughs just bordering on the inappropriate, even though they’d go right over their heads anyway. This film broke the record for how many times my jaw hit the floor seeing what they could do with the visuals. It’s detailed, meticulous, gorgeously rendered and beautifully crafted, not to mention speckled with subtle references to other films, literary works and themes that Verbinski no doubt holds dear and uses to amplify the story nicely. Johnny Depp gives wit, endearing naivety and a sense of childlike wonder to his creation of Rango, a little lizard in the big desert, violently thrown from a car wreck into the greatest adventure of his life, and the archetypal heroes journey. He wanders through the baking Mojave desert into the town of Dirt, inhabited by sassy, loveable creatures modelled after all our favourite western characters and carefully constructed from the biological blueprint of wildlife in that area. He blunders his way into becoming the sheriff, and leads the whole town on a quest to locate their most sought after resource: Aqua. Verbinski directs with a snappy, take no prisoners sense of humour, throwing joke after joke after one liner after tongue in cheek nod at us, until we feel so bombarded with fantastic imagery, brilliant voice acting and just plain fun, that we more than feel like we’re getting our money’s worth. Each animal is beautifully designed, from the evil Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy having a ball with a mini gun tail and evil amber eyes), to Beans (a fellow lizard and love interest for our scaly hero), to the sleazy mayor (Ned Beatty, that old turtle), to a rampaging band of bank robbing moles led by a blind Harry Dean Stanton. The cast includes everyone from Timothy Olyphant to Stephen Root, Ray Winstone, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Lew Temple, Ian Abercrombie, Gil Birmingham and Verbinski himself in multiple roles. There’s just so much going on here visually, from a dusty cameo by The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’s Man With No Name to eerie trees that wander the desert searching for water, a cameo from Hunter S. Thompson’s Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo themselves and don’t even get me started on the batshit crazy aerial chase scene set to a mariachi version of Ride Of The Valkyries. The film is so full of detail, beauty and ambitious artistry that it has taken me at least three viewings to feel like I’ve noticed every character, one liner and cheekily brilliant little touch. It’s that good. Among the whacky antics there’s a theme of owning up to ones identity, becoming responsible for people you save, and finishing the work or task you set out to do, lest you leave your legacy unwritten. A classic.

-Nate Hill

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George Miller’s Babe Pig In The City

George Miller’s Babe Pig In The City is quite the underestimated film. Following on the heels of the sweet, good natured fable that was the first Babe, Miller delved into his creative well, pulled out all the stops and came up with a rip roaring, wondrously exciting sequel that outdoes the original in almost every way. The production design and sets alone are enough to make the film a winner, the titular city comprised from aspects of LA, New York, Sydney, Paris, Vegas and many more. It’s every rural village’s idea of what the city must be like, a gigantic metropolitan dream world of commotion, chaos and creativity. Miller starts, in a charming sequence, at Babe’s humble beginnings on the picturesque, old world farmland and hurtles him on a madcap adventure in this city of cities, joined by some of his farmland friends (Ferdinand the duck and those adorable singing Mice, whose musical numbers are hilarious), and sees him meet a whole host of new ones. This is where the magic of the film really takes hold, as we see hundreds of dogs, cats, monkeys, birds, rodents and one hapless goldfish all come to amazingly realistic life courtesy of Miller and his team. Each animal is beautifully voiced and given his or her own dignity, grace and absolutely grounded story arc to the point where this becomes no longer just a children’s film, but a surrealist take on city life, moral hardships, individual personality and classist conflict as enacted by the national geographic channel. The sinister German shepherd (of course voiced by a German dude), the wise old orangutang Thelonius (James Cosmo) who heartbreakingly won’t leave a risky situation without putting his human clothes on (Miller sneaks in some thoughtful themes) the opera singing cats. Mazda Szubenski deserves a medal for her physical comedy and tart, spry turn as the farmers wife, diligently pursuing babe to the city where she is hilariously out of her element. James Chromwell briefly reprises his wonderful Farmer Hoggett, Mickey Rooney, looking so old and delirious I’d be surprised if he knew what film he was working on, let alone what planet, has a demented cameo as a sinister clown who is not quite right in the head. This film used to scare me as a kid, and looking back I’m both glad that it did and now realize the importance to infusing dark wonder and genuine menace into children’s films, for one day they will grow up and find out that the world is very much like the frightening fables and fairy tales from their youth. This film has sadness and harsh realities, like the Brooklyn voiced bull terrier who can’t control his violent behaviour because he knows it’s in his nature, the cruel and heartless actions of the animal control unit dispatched to round up all the stray puppers and kitties (this left me traumatized) or the terrifying accidental fire that rips through the children’s ward of a hospital. The film takes place in a hyper stylized version of our world but the truths we see and the suffering some of these animals endure couldn’t be closer to reality, and it’s important not to shy away or gloss over that. There’s also wonderful kindness and warm-hearted behaviour too, like the touching family dynamic between the family of chimpanzees, the pink poodle (Russi Taylor) who shelters and feeds tiny kittens who are scared and hungry, or the sympathetic airport custodian who takes pity on Babe and Mrs. Hoggett. It’s a weird, wild world of a film that Miller makes the most out of with every elaborately designed set piece, Dr. Seuss-esque spectacle and surreal flourish, but it’s also a serious minded tale with a brain in its head and a strong emotional centre, showing that ‘a kind and steady heart’ will always help in hard times. A masterpiece for all ages.

-Nate Hill

Daniel Alfredson’s Blackway

Daniel Alfredson’s Blackway (aka Go With Me) is a bizarre disaster that would have made for a cool flick if… well if it didn’t turn out so darn shitty. I suppose you could blame editing, there’s elements that work, some decent performances and genuinely terrific photography but I’m not sure what they were going for in terms of tone and story because it’s an unholy mess. Anthony Hopkins is always a welcome presence, but he has a silly habit of sleepwalking through roles that he’s clearly only taken on to grab a buck (that twitter video of him spazzing out to music in his living room had more charisma than he musters up here), and although he never fully phones it in, there’s a somewhat listless lack of clarity in a lot of his later career work, this included. He plays an ex logger here with tragedy in his past, living the quiet life in the Pacific Northwest, until trouble brews in his small lumber town. Julia Stiles plays a new waitress in town who catches the eye of titular Blackway (Ray Liotta) an ex cop turned powerful crime lord with a hefty anger problem, violent tendencies and an overall scary reputation. He stalks, harasses and won’t leave the poor girl alone, and since he owns the pitiful excuse of a local police force there’s not much she can do but run and seek help elsewhere, supplied by Hopkins and a few of his pals including Alexander Ludwig and Hal Holbrook. If I was a powerful producer with the clout to green-light projects and you pitched me a noir-esque stalker thriller with Hopkins, Liotta and Stiles set in the Northwest I’d chuck my wallet at you and give my blessings. I’d later learn a hard lesson though, because as well as this looks on paper, or rather the alluring one sheet and exciting trailer, it really tanks and blows just about all of its potential. Stiles is always fantastic, she’s one of my favourites and can do no wrong in my book, she shines here. Liotta is a master actor and does a truly terrifying villain turn but he’s sort of in the wrong film. He has a big city gangster vibe that’s decidedly urban and bereft of the rustic trappings you need to pull off a mythic mountain man kingpin, and as such he feels out of place despite his great talents and considerable efforts. There’s a few decent set pieces like a face off at Blackway’s backroads whorehouse, but this thing is paced so oddly it’s hard to keep up or care. Alfredson is an accomplished filmmaker who gave us the original Lisbeth Salander trilogy, but I think he tried too hard to make this into something of an art film or really mean something when in reality there’s nothing more than a painfully average thriller. Worth it for the actors and the drop dead gorgeous scenery (I will forever be a sucker for films shot and set in this region), but other than that it’s a big swing and a bigger miss.

-Nate Hill

The HAMMER and the DOOMSDAY DEVICE by Kent Hill

Eight versus eight hundred! Now at any other time of day you’d have to say, “those odds aren’t good.” Well of course they’re not – unless of course the leader of this fateful eight happens to be a walking charge of TNT.

That’s right folks; Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson explodes upon the screen as Stoker, the leader of a daring band of warriors out to uncover a Nazi doomsday weapon lost during World War 2. At Williamson’s side are The Fighter, The Samurai, The Texan, The Priest, The Sniper, The Blade and The Rookie.  An incredible cast bring these roles to life with a combination of on-the-rise-exciting-action-stars like Mike Moller, veterans like Wolfgang Riehm, new-comers like Josephine Hies – not forgetting an awesome appearance by the Snake Eater himself, Lorenzo ‘The Snake’ Lamas.

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With a mixture of razor-sharp intensity blended with blinding action Nazi Doomsday Device/Atomic Eden packs a massive entertainment punch which The Hammer himself says goes well with buddy’s and a brew. Nico Sentner has crafted, along with his collaborator and my former guest Dominik Starck, an engrossing action extravaganza which reminds one of the good old action movie days, while showcasing the best and brightest of the new breed – both in front of and behind the camera.

It was a privilege to talk with the man in the director’s chair, also known as the Godfather of Krautsploitation and his ever-cool leading man. Together they have made a ferocious little picture that not only swings for the fences, in spite of its size, but knocks it out of the park. NDD is an audacious step towards greatness for Sentner (in this man’s opinion). I eagerly wait to see where he takes it from here. Though I must admit, I’d have a tough time trying to follow a gig where I was directing Fred Williamson. So let’s keep fingers crossed…

…let’s hope for a sequel.

FRED ‘THE HAMMER’ WILLIAMSON

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Former Oakland Raiders/Kansas City Chiefs football star who rose to prominence as one of the first African-American male action stars of the “blaxploitation” genre of the early 1970s, who has since gone on to a long and illustrious career as an actor, director, writer, and producer! Burly, yet handsome 6′ 3″ Williamson first came to attention in the TV series Julia (1968) playing love interest, Steve Bruce. However, his rugged, athletic physique made him a natural for energetic roles and he quickly established himself as a street wise, tough guy in films including That Man Bolt (1973), Black Caesar (1973), and Mean Johnny Barrows (1975). Talented Williamson established his own production company “Po ‘Boy Productions” in 1974, which has produced over 40 movies to date. Like many young American stars of the 1960s and ’70s, Williamson was noticed by Italian producers who cast him in a slew of B-grade action movies that occupied a lot of his work in the 1980s. From the late ’80s onwards, much of his work has been of the “straight to video” fare (often playing police officers), but none could deny he has kept actively busy in movies and TV for over three decades, both in front of and behind the camera. More recently, indie director Robert Rodriguez cast him alongside FX guru Tom Savini as two vampire killing bikers, in his bloody action film From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), and he has most recently appeared on screen (displaying his wonderful comedy skills) playing grumpy Captain Dobey in Starsky & Hutch (2004).

NICO SENTNER

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The so-called Godfather of Krautploitation, Nico Sentner was born on November 25, 1982 in Quedlinburg, German Democratic Republic. He is a producer and actor, known for Atomic Eden (2015), Sin Reaper 3D (2012) and Dark Legacy (2005).

 

 

 

 

We’re off to see the Wizard: An Interview with Mike Jittlov by Kent Hill

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There are relics from the days of VHS that have endured. They ultimately found they’re following on video and developed significant interest to warrant subsequent Director’s Cuts and Special Edition releases on DVD and Blu-ray. Some – but not all. Such is the curious case of The Wizard of Speed and Time.

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Like my friend and talented filmmaker, Wade Copson, put it (and I quote): “Once upon a time, in a Video Store open down the road from our house, I was searching the titles for a movie about people making movies. I stumbled across a VHS with a shiny cover called The Wizard of Speed and Time.”

Just like Wade, I discovered TWOSAT in a similar fashion. There had been a few covers with that reflective material employed to catch the eye – another, off the top of my head, was The Wraith.

But did you know TWOSAT wasn’t supposed to be a feature? Long before Robert Rodriguez was the one man movie-making machine, Mike Jittlov was doing it all. The Wizard was being compiled to be Mike’s show reel, in essence a calling card to display his incredible array of talents and his mastery of each and every facet of film-making.

But like all stories, there’s a villain. In Hollywood those against you for the own financial gain always seem to have a habit of landing on their feet while leaving your dream in tatters. Mike has been fighting against speed and time ever since and is now, at last, in a place where he finds himself still with the will to see The Wizard be restored to the state in which the artist (Jittlov) always intended it to be seen.

It was after Wade asked me one night, some time ago, if I was familiar with TWOSAT. The spark went off in my head; “Could I get in touch with Mike Jittlov?” Firstly because I too am a fan of The Wizard, but also because I thought he would make an incredible guest.

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Ironically the first thing I found online was an interview from a British film website where the journalist, when asked how he had managed to track down Jittlov, simply said, “His phone number is on his website. I waited until the time it suggested was best to call and I phoned him – we ended up talking for an hour.”

“Could be that easy?” So I followed suit. Went to the website (which had not be updated in quite some time by the looks of things), got the number, waited till the time suggested – and made the call. Sure enough, there on the end of the line was Mike Jittlov. He had no interest in being interviewed because of prior misrepresentation, but he agreed to talk to me (and we talked for over an hour). I didn’t pause the recorder – if for any reason it was because this was perhaps the closest I’d ever get to The Wizard – the recording would be a memento.

But Mike did consent to allow me to share this with you fine folks. I have cut parts of the discussion that I feel are too personal to be revealed in this arena, and have kept the film-making side of our chat for your listening pleasure. As a fan first I was extremely nervous and thus mumbled my way through it but, what can I tell you, if you have not seen TWOSAT, get out there. YouTube is your best bet for easy access, though it is a different cut when compared to the VHS edition.

I’ll say it here publicly Wade, you a one lucky boy and I hope in a future episode to record Wade’s tales from meeting with The Wizard himself. Till then I have my experience to share, I still have my copy of the film, and last but not least I have a little prayer – let Mike Jittlov finish his work O Lord, so that the world might at last see The Wizard in all his glory….

SUPPORT THE RESTORATION OF THE WIZARD’S SOUNDTRACK HERE:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-wizard-of-speed-and-time-soundtrack-on-vinyl#/

So I met this guy who worked on Street Fighter by Kent Hill

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So there I was, peddling my wares. A heapin’ helpin’ of the ideas I had for movies were dying slow, dusty deaths on shelves and in draws until a friend suggested that I should simply write them all as books.

Supanova is what we have Down Under instead of Comic Con, and it was on day one of said Con that I sat, anxious, for there were no takers. Books with no pictures seemed about as welcome in that place as a sign stating: Cosplayers will be shot!

Still I kept the faith and soon enough I noticed folks were coming around. The awesome cover art and weird juxtaposition of genres were beginning to grab attention. Soon this cool cat with steampunk attire and weaponry approached the bench. To my surprise he bought a book and then, as is often the case when talking to me, the conversation quickly shifted to the topic of movies.

It was in that moment the guy, out of the blue, told me he had worked on Street Fighter – a film generally regarded as one of those tiresome ‘video game’ movies. Big, expensive, lead weights that treated the box office like the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

Sue me, okay, I gotta soft spot for Street Fighter man, it’s a guilty pleasure – plus I was intrigued, as I often am, to hear behind the scenes stories.

People line up at these Cons and spend ridiculous sums of money to get celebrity autographs. It’s money they could save, let me tell you, if folks would just hang around til the end of the day – or come in really early. It’s this tactic that saw me meet Chewbacca and have a coffee with Nick Frost for a grand total of zero dollars. So to these types I must have appeared bonkers when I asked Daryl Zimmermann for his autograph. A guy that had worked on a film most of the kids walking the floor that day, I’m pretty sure, had no idea existed.

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So Daryl, shocked as I supposed he must have been, signed the back of a card I had in my wallet. And he’s a top bloke I tell you – as well as being a man who worked on a movie I happen to like.

If you haven’t seen Street Fighter, now’s your chance. It’s written and directed by the guy who wrote Die Hard and stars Van Damme, back when he had more cocaine than brains (apparently). I have already interviewed Zengief, who gave me a few stories from in front of the camera. But, Daryl played his part in the movie too (see E. Honda Vs Zengief clip above) …

 

 

 

Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris

Concept: Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is not a remake of the 70’s version but a separate adaptation of the novel by Stanislaw Lem, existing as its own vision of that story. Many people ripped on this as being an inferior retread of Andrei Tarkovsky’s strange, deliberately slow film (which didn’t work for me). Now bear with me: in my humble and frequently disputed opinion, Soderbergh’s is not only the better film but the definitive version of this story. It’s shorter, less theatrical, far more accessible but in the end it’s timbre simply struck a far more resonant chord with me, and I never argue with that intuitive barometer. This version is also slow, but finds a hypnotic, mesmeric cadence to the story of psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), his deceased wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone) and the mysterious sphere of luminescence, the planet Solaris. Kelvin has been called there by his friend and colleague Gibarian (Ulrich Tukur) after some… odd things start happening to the astronauts aboard, and it’s here on this quiet, near abandoned space station that he undergoes an intense, otherworldly and very personal metaphysical journey that is catalyzed by the forces of the planet sparkling below them and deepened further by the difficult, unexplored regions of human psyches and behaviour. The planet below has a habit of resurrecting Kelvin’s wife who died years before and placing her on the station with him. Why? Who can say, but it certainly provides everyone involved with all sorts of dilemmas both internal and external, starting with the nature of love, loss and grief. This version of Rheya is clearly not Chris’s wife, but a copy made by the planet based on his memory, mental images and unresolved emotions surrounding her. He struggles at first to see this, then he does. She too struggles at first with existential confusion, and comes to a similar realization, with heartbreaking results. This film is thoughtful and ponderous even by Science Fiction standards, there isn’t a single action scene or anything like that, it is solely character based, atmospheric storytelling that draws you in ways some people have forgotten film is capable of. Clooney is at his most vulnerable here, the charm, affability and mile wide smile nowhere in sight. This is a man whose grief has come back full circle to him, and the haunted, staggered reaction upon seeing his wife again for the first time is my favourite work he has ever done. McElhone is an actress who rarely gets the chance to exercise her full potential, but this is a career best for her, she goes to some places that are hard to get to, and her methods of getting there in her obvious scene prep and meditative focus are beautiful to behold. The scenes near Solaris are interlaced with their complicated, stormy yet devoted relationship years prior, which is the lynchpin and mapping schematic that Solaris later draws on for… whatever it thinks it’s doing. Composer Cliff Martinez often works with Soderbergh, and their collaboration here is succinct and tandem, the soft, rhythmic electronic beat pulsing along to images of sleek, still hallways of the station and the vividly coloured planet below, holding secrets that seem just out of reach. The film questions not only love and life but the way human beings perceive each other, whether a tangible person can exist based only upon someone’s dimming memory of them, and what part exactly does the soul play in all of this. “We don’t have to think like that anymore”, Rheya lovingly reassures Chris when he worriedly questions the semantics of Solaris’s plan. Opaque is the nature of this story, but through it we are invited to feel our way to truths that hide behind the swirling pulsars adorning Solaris and the ongoing relationship between these two lovers who are star crossed in more than just a metaphorical sense. Complex, difficult themes to be sure, but it’s all dealt with in organic, rapturous fashion as Soderbergh lets glances, body language, music and affection tell the story instead of heaps of dialogue or obvious beats. A love story wrapped up in a gorgeous musical tone poem gilded by an intelligent, thought provoking science fiction story that questions the essential, reaches for answers in unconventional ways and does things with film that the medium was meant for. One of my top ten favourite films ever made, and up there with the very best Sci Fi’s out there.

-Nate Hill