Tag Archives: Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader’s Affliction

Paul Schrader’s Affliction is a terrifying, tragic and too-real examination of how one series of events, dating back to childhood abuse, can spark the kind of self destructive downward spiral that no well adjusted person could ever thing themselves capable of. At the outset Nick Nolte’s Wade Whitehouse does indeed seem, perhaps mostly in his own eyes, to be a fairly well adjusted person. He’s an auxiliary lawman in a small New Hampshire community with a daughter, ex wife and set of problems that could be chalked up as ‘everyday variety.’ But just underneath that is a simmering layer of trauma and violence that inevitably will be unleashed, given the right set of catalytic incidents. Wade has a volcanically abusive father (James Coburn) who drinks like there’s no tomorrow and terrorized his family no end for years. Wade’s brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe) distanced himself from the whole implosive saga years ago but when their mother passes away and the dynamics of their family as well as that of the town begins to shift, forces align against all of them.

This is a sad, heavy, fucked up, heinously bleak and relentlessly downbeat piece of storytelling, no fooling around. Wade’s trajectory is just painful to watch, from hazy flashbacks to childhood horrors inflicted by the old man to slow, steady signs of mental illness, delusional breakdowns and unstable behaviours manifesting gradually like an incoming blizzard. His relationship with his father is a poisoned minefield, his brother stays at arm’s length while his ex wife and daughter are resentful of him, perhaps scared or both. He has one solace in the girl he’s seeing (Sissy Spacek) but once she’s drawn into the whirlwind that is his life she too frays around the edges and is tainted by the violence, bad luck and pain surrounding it all. If this sounds like anything but a pleasant experience, it totally is and you’ll leave the room feeling like you’ve been slapped in the face repeatedly. But it’s an important, well crafted, intelligent, vital film that explores in uncommon empathy and understanding how a cycle of abuse, alcoholism, dereliction of compassionate behaviour and violence can ripple throughout generations like a sentient force all its own.

Nolte is sublime in this role, he’s an actor who always seems on the edge of an explosive outburst, always restless or shifting around, possessive of a deeply uneasy tone of voice and a guarded gaze. He rocks this role scarily well and it could be the performance of his career. Coburn is a tower of terror as the domineering patriarch, an imposing force in flashbacks now reduced to a frail, brittle and sour parody of himself in old age, constantly swilling booze, pissing archaic rhetoric like a toxic fountain and continuously displaying what the very worst traits of the male image look like. Dafoe is quietly powerful, present briefly in person and then in spirit with haunting narration, the black sheep of this clan in the best way possible. Spacek is so sad as the poor girl dragged into all this as it’s achingly clear she has deep feelings for Wade which she must abandon as soon as it becomes clear the kind of black hole he’s headed for. The cast is rounded out nicely with folks like Chris Heyerdahl, Brigid Tierney, Jim True-Frost, Mary Beth Hurt, Wayne Robson, Joanna Noyes and the excellent Holmes Osborne who we recall as Donnie Darko’s dad. This is a grim tale, as rough and cold as the inland terrain these people make their home, and for the family here there’s no way out of the cold, save for perhaps Dafoe’s character. It’s essential work though, a film that doesn’t doesn’t shy away from taboos that we ignore and banish out there with the howling wind, but rises up to meet and bear witness to such atrocities so that we may better recognize them in our own realm, and whittle away at the block of empathy and compassion in the face of such horror. A stone cold masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Paul Schrader’s Forever Mine

Paul Schrader’s Forever Mine is a melodramatic romantic revenge thriller that never truly coalesces into something great, but has elements which work nicely. We get two really great lead performances from Gretchen Mol and Ray Liotta, and one from Joseph Fiennes that isn’t as committed, or maybe it’s just that I’m not a fan of his and always feel that he’s mis-casted. Fiennes is the cabana boy working the beaches who falls in love with Mol, the much younger wife of Liotta’s shady, volatile politician. Jealousy roars into play, violence rears it’s head and tragedy looms when the affair becomes a full blown love triangle. Liotta is a dangerous man with powerful friends and he soon fixes it so the two of them can never see each other again, on top of having him viciously scarred. Flash forward a decade or so, Fiennes has become something of a shady businessman himself, and has returned seeking payback on ol’ angry Liotta. The one giant misstep in the script here is assuming that no one would recognize him simply because he’s become rich, cultured and suave, I mean it’s still the exact same guy in the flesh, Liotta and his ilk seem to buy the ruse, but it just doesn’t sell. It’s all very mirthless and operatic, so much so that it reminds me of Tony Scott’s Revenge which is the ultimate noir soap opera, but it works here and there. Liotta and Mol simmer off the screen but like I said above, Fiennes is just an awkward foot and doesn’t seem to work for me wherever I see him. The film’s strongest point lies in its last sixty seconds or so, when the whole thing wraps up in a melancholic vignette of tandem narration from him and Mol, a beautifully spoken and edited sequence that’s brief but truly affecting, poetic and heartbreaking. A so-so film.

-Nate Hill

EPISODE 33: DOG EAT DOG with SPECIAL GUEST MATTHEW WILDER

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Podcasting Them Softly is honored to be joined with returning guest, Matthew Wilder, to talk about his latest film, DOG EAT DOG starring Nicolas Cage, Christopher Matthew Cook, and Willem Dafoe.  Matthew adapted Edward Bunker’s novel of the same name, and the film was directed by legendary filmmaker Paul Schrader.  Matthew is currently in pre-production on his next film; MORNING HAS BROKEN starring Lydia Hearst and Peter Bogdanovich.  Matthew is currently writing BAD COMPANY: THE COTTON CLUB MURDERS.  DOG EAT DOG is currently avalible to rent and purchase on VOD with a blu ray being released on December 27th.

Paul Schrader’s DOG EAT DOG – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

​DOG EAT DOG is akin to noir films of the 1950’s and 1940’s like KILLING THEM SOFTLY is akin to noir of the 1970’s and 1960’s.  The kinship doesn’t stop there; DOG is a film that not only is absurdly funny and brutally violent, but it is also an examination of the economy, the justice system, and the blue collar working class.

Filmmaker Paul Schrader is at his best when he dabbles in quasi topical films.  Matthew Wilder (who has a voice cameo on the phone during the opening scene) pens a sharply chaotic and humorous script adapted from Edward Bunker’s novel. 
Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Matthew Cook headline the film as a trio of career criminals who for an extended period of time have been removed from society and spent time in prison and are now simultaneously readjusting to society while struggling to survive.  Their plights are real, as they fight to live in a society that has cast them out and turned it’s back on them.

Cage and Dafoe are on fire.  Cage has never been so good.  A complete return to his zany and almost abstract form.  Willem Dafoe is cinematic treasure.  I can’t think of another actor who is a staple in the works of Lars von Trier, Paul Schrader, Abel Ferrara; yet is a viable mainstream draw, showing up in the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE.  
Much like KILLING THEM SOFTLY; DOG EAT DOG is not a film for the masses (or critics for that matter).  For as fun and as topical the film is, it is proud at how perversely humorous and transgressive it is as a whole.  DOG EAT DOG is the cinematic answer to the turbulence and dilapidation of contemporary America. 

DOG EAT DOG is available on VOD and is now playing theatrically in select cities.

THE WALKER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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After dabbling briefly with a major studio with Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005), writer/director Paul Schrader returned to the relatively safe confines of the independent film scene with The Walker (2007). This film continued his fascination with loner protagonists ostracized by their profession as examined in American Gigolo (1980) and Light Sleeper (1992), or by their worldview as in Taxi Driver (1976).

Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson) is a popular socialite who works as a confidant, companion, and card player to the wives of politicians in Washington, D.C. – a professional “walker,” a term coined for Nancy Reagan’s companion when she was First Lady. Carter is the epitome of the Southern gentleman. He plays a weekly card game with three women as they gossip and tell stories complete with salacious details about the denizens of Capitol Hill. Carter is finely groomed and impeccably dressed with only the finest suits, living in a beautifully furnished place.

With the stories Carter tells his dates, he hints at a rich backstory but he is careful not to reveal too much about himself. While waiting for Lynn Lockner (Kristin Scott Thomas), one of his dates, to meet up with her lover, she comes back in shock. Her lover is dead and she asks Carter to keep the incident quiet. Of course, he decides to get involved (he knew the victim). Carter used to trade in juicy gossip and now he has become the subject of it. It doesn’t help that he lost considerable money on an investment that the victim advised and this gives the socialite a motive. As a result, he decides to investigate the murder using his own insider contacts and uncover a few dirty secrets that people in positions of power don’t want revealed. His efforts to clear his name become more urgent once the Feds apply pressure thanks to a particular nasty agent (William Hope). Pretty soon, events conspire against him and Carter becomes the prime suspect.

Woody Harrelson disappears into the role affecting a flawless accent and does an excellent job with Schrader’s witty dialogue and distinctive cadence. Every few years between amiable comedies Harrelson gets a juicy dramatic role to sink his teeth into and showcase his acting chops: Natural Born Killers (1994), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), and now this film. Schrader’s screenplay, as you would expect, snaps and pops, especially the scenes where Carter and his companions banter and gossip. It doesn’t hurt that he has the likes of Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin, and Kristin Scott Thomas delivering it. The Walker is a fascinating inside look at a subculture that exists in Washington, D.C. under the auspices of a murder mystery. It shows to what lengths politicians will go in order to protect themselves and their dirty secrets. Schrader has crafted a smart thriller with interesting characters that is driven by a well-plotted story and not a bunch of noisy, hastily edited action sequences.

PTS PRESENTS WRITERS WORKSHOP with WILLIAM WISHER

WISHER POWERCAST

Wisher BrosnanPodcasting Them Softly is beyond excited to present a chat with screenwriter and producer William Wisher, who co-wrote The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day with James Cameron. William also collaborated with director John McTiernan on The 13th Warrior, he wrote the screenplay to Judge Dredd, and collaborated with Paul Schrader on Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. He’s also a contributor to the Die Hard franchise as screenwriter and producer, while also making some extremely memorable film appearances. He’s got a new film with Pierce Brosnan coming out later this year called I.T. and he’s working on a new action film with director John Moore called Come Hell or High Water, which based on the title alone, suggests something epic! He’s also a well known script doctor, which is an intriguing area of the business that both Frank and I are fascinated with. This is a fun, extremely informative chat with lots of interesting bits and pieces about the business and some of the biggest franchises ever to hit the screen. We hope you enjoy!

MARTIN SCORSESE’S RAGING BULL — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Raging Bull features one of the greatest performances that the screen has ever contained. It also happens to be a definitive American masterpiece, the sort of film that is unimpeachable in terms of overall quality and its standing in the pantheon of great cinema. This is a pulverizing film – emotionally, aesthetically, and narratively – and it leaves bruises, intentionally, while frequently stirring the soul. Martin Scorsese’s showy, studied, and totally commanding direction is a text book example of cinematic showmanship.  Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin’s intimate screenplay allowed for any number of moments – both big and small – to become immediate cinematic touchstones. Robert De Niro’s work as Jake La Motta will be rightfully revered until the final days of this planet; it’s a force of nature piece of acting in a film that makes the ground under your feet feel as if it’s moving. The stellar ensemble cast all gracefully dance around the edges of this tremendous motion picture, with Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty providing blistering support, with a stacked roster of faces and character actors coming and going, providing the film with a terrific sense of place and atmosphere. The combination of Michael Chapman’s electrifying black and white cinematography, which was stylistically heightened to suggest the intense speed and ferocity of the bouts in the ring, and Thelma Schoonmaker’s dynamic and propulsive editing, went a long way in providing the movie with such an urgent sense of violence, both during the numerous bloody bouts and the verbally explosive fights between La Motta and all of the people within his personal orbit. What more, at this point, can be said about Raging Bull that hasn’t been said? It’s one of those timeless classics that ages like a fine wine, and a true reminder of the galvanic force that De Niro possessed during his remarkable run in the vintage years.

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