Tag Archives: Randy Quaid

Being Hal: An Interview with Amy Scott by Kent Hill

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There is no denying that a good percentage of the films we count today as iconic, came from the 70’s. With the birth of the easy riders and raging bulls, it would be the first and last time filmmakers would enjoy true creative freedom, as well as being able to present personalized films to the movie-loving audience at large.

Now. When we think of the 70’s, the new Hollywood, there are the usual suspects that come to mind. But, there is a name that, for whatever reason, has been absent from the list when it leaks from the tongues of cineastes the world over. That name is the name of Hal Ashby. One of the great individualists to come out of his era, Ashby’s cinema is at once quietly profound and intensely calm. He was an artist that saw the world for what is was – in its entire obnoxious, absurdist best, Ashby captured the beautiful frailty of the moment, no matter how strange, or violent, or sensual, or funny.

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Still, with all the freedom they enjoyed, the filmmakers of the 70’s were far from immune from the ‘tampering of the suits’. Ashby, like his contemporaries, raged against the ludicrous interference and mindless nitpicking of the powers that control the content that comes to a cinema near you. And, in fighting for his vision, he was labelled troublesome, rendered weary and eventually would succumb to a career that watched him bravely, and perhaps at times foolishly, burn the candle at both ends.

Amy Scott has produced, at last, the grand portrait of a man who made some of the defining films of his generation – or any generation from that matter. With the blessing of Ashby’s estate she as unearthed a veritable trove of Ashby gold, from letters to recordings of the man himself – telling it like it is, or was, or perhaps someday will be.

Hal is a documentary that has been on the road to find out. I for one can’t wait for you to see it – I for one, am just glad it’s out…

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE:

http://hal.oscilloscope.net/

https://www.facebook.com/halashbymovie/

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“Roadblocks won’t stop somethin’ that can’t be stopped.” : Remembering The Wraith with Mike Marvin by Kent Hill

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The Wraith was like many a glorious find back in the day at my local video store. The cover had a holographic shimmer to it – a strange robot-like character standing in front of some bad-ass, customized car that looked as though it would be more comfortable zipping through the galaxy rather than flying at break-neck speeds along the long stretches and cactus-lined roads of Arizona.

Yes sir, that cover held the promise of sci-fi mysticism combined with heat-thumping vehicular action to rival the Road Warrior.

Oddly enough, Dr. George’s post-apocalyptic action-adventure was the template for Mike Marvin’s Cult Classic. When the man who started out making skiing films came to Hollywood and saw an opportunity to fuse High Plains Drifter with Mad Max 2, one would assume it was a concept any studio would be happy to throw their weight behind.

But, then as now, the movie business can be treacherous, and Marvin’s experiences making The Wraith were far from pleasant. As a matter a fact, they were a nightmare. Plagued by unscrupulous producers, a tragic death while filming – along with all the other perils of production – it is a wonder that this certified 80’s classic ever made to to the screen.

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Lucky for us, however, thanks must go, in no small part, to a string of wonderful performers, a dedicated crew and a talented director at the helm, The Wraith survives as a one of a kind mash-up of genres that has endured and is, for this film writer at least, yet to be equaled.

This interview was conducted before I was able to sample Mike’s great and candid commentary on the Region 1 DVD release of the film. And while some of what he relayed to me you will find on that release, the truly glorious thing that I experienced was to hear these insights, plus a couple that were not covered in that commentary track, first hand from this journeyman warhorse of a film-maker.

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So seek out the The Wraith, those of you who have not yet experienced it. Let this interview, hopefully tantalize your interest to learn more about this incredible film that really was both ahead of its time, a product of its time and most assuredly one of a kind…

Ladies and Gentlemen…Mike Marvin.

 

 

Walter Hill’s The Long Riders

◦ I’m pretty sure that Walter Hill’s The Long Riders does something that no film had done before or after, least to that extent: pull off the biggest sibling stunt casting session in history. Based on the rowdy, violent exploits of the James Younger gang in the old west, Hill casts real life brothers as the troupe, a choice which could have been south of silly in any old director’s hands, but works like gold here. James and Stacy Keach play Frank and Jesse James, David Robert and Keith Carradine are the Younger clan, while Randy and a very mean, very young Dennis Quaid fill the boots of the Millers. It’s fairly brilliant, well organized and pays off nicely, especially if you’re a fan of any of these guys, which I am and then some. Now, the film. Most westerns about these hotshot outlaws take a quippy, cavalier standpoint and go for sterling silver charm. Not Hill, a notorious trend shirker and trailblazer whose tactics in casting, music, editing and tone have never followed the Hollywood grain. The film is downbeat, somber and mostly a series of vignettes that topple against each other like dominoes. The gang shuffles from robbery to holdup almost reluctantly, like it’s written in the stars and they have no choice but to commit crimes. They clash royally with the ruthless Pinkerton agency, who cause more than a few casualties on their side. The shootouts here are no sanitized 50’s Lone Ranger fluff, they’re brutal, bloody and amped up to extreme violence, which is always to be expected from Hill. The life of an outlaw is not glamorized here either, a choice rarely, if ever made in the western department. These are hard men resigned to their rough lives, not fast talking hot-doggin prince charmings like insufferable Young Guns type crap. There’s scattershot subplot about the brother’s lives, but mostly the focus is rooted in their exploits and run ins with the law. David Carradine’s Cole Younger has a cool knife fight sequence up against half breed injun Sam Starr (Hill favourite James Remar) over the favour of pretty hooker Pamela Reed. The actors are all gritty and grizzled, from James Keach’s long-faced, Moody Jesse James to Dennis Quaid’s volatile psychopath Ed Miller. Hill’s go to music guru Ry Cooder provides another achingly gorgeous score with echoes of his composition on Southern Comfort a few years later, a melancholic tune stripped bare of any action sequence swells or orchestral hoo-hah. Pretty damn underrated as far as big screen westerns go, with a tone and look that seems somehow far more genuine than many others in the genre.

-Nate Hill

Fun, and in every sense civilized: An Interview with Charlie Haas by Kent Hill

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Charlie Haas began his life with no thought of working in film. He was interested in fiction and journalism until, that is, at UC, Santa Cruz he started attending a film history class taught by his future collaborator Tim Hunter.

1978 comes around, and their first collaborative effort, Over the Edge, is sold. It is highly unusual for a first time screenwriter to have his early work produced, but that was what happened. After that it was a rise and rise. A young Matt Dillon would go on the star in Hunter and Haas’s next film Tex, and while hanging around at Disney, Charlie found himself doing an unaccredited dialogue polish on, the now cult classic, Tron.

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Two other favorite films of mine were penned completely by Charlie Haas. Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Matinee.  Both of course were directed by Joe Dante, a famously collaboratively-generous filmmaker. Charlie’s experiences were similar to those had by Eric Luke (whom I’ve chatted with before) who spoke fondly of his Dante adventure on Explorers. Gremlins 2 was a free-for-all kind of sequel. The studio wanted it and so Joe and Charlie were given quite a lot of rope creatively. Meanwhile Matinee is sadly an unsung delight that surprisingly few people I talk to have seen. If you are one of these people, hopefully listening to this may prompt you to check it out, and, if you’re a fan and you haven’t seen it in a while, well, now might be a good time to rediscover this lost little gem of a movie.

Charlie Haas is a true gentleman and it was great to finally shoot the breeze as they say. Though he is not in the industry anymore he is far from unproductive. He has been writing novels, which I shall post the links to below, so check those out.

Whether you have encountered his writing in print or on screen, please now take the time if you will to encounter the man behind the words, the great, Charlie Haas.

https://www.amazon.com/What-Color-Your-Parody-Charlie/dp/0843107960/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510213067&sr=1-5&keywords=charlie+haas

THE LAST DETAIL – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Hal Ashby directed some of the best films to come out of the 1970s, exploding out of the gates with four motion pictures over five years. They were all quirky comedy-drama hybrids that, in terms of subject matter, couldn’t be more different and yet are united in the sense that they all feature offbeat protagonists. They focus on outsiders that exist on the margins of mainstream society, like the death-obsessed young man who falls in love an unflappable, optimistic septuagenarian in Harold and Maude (1971). In its own way, The Last Detail (1973) is a comedy tinged with drama and one that features marginalized protagonists in the form of two veteran United States Navy petty officers that have to transport a young sailor from Virginia to New Hampshire and end up learning something about themselves and each other along the way.

At the time, Ashby was coming off the commercial and critical failure of Harold and Maude when Jack Nicholson told him about The Last Detail. Then up-and-coming screenwriter Robert Towne had adapted Darryl Ponicsan’s novel of the same name with the actor (they were close friends) in mind. Nicholson was on an incredible run of classic film roles that started with Easy Rider (1969) and continued with two Bob Rafelson films – Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972). His role in The Last Detail would yet again demonstrate his power and versatility as an actor, resulting in him being crowned Best Actor at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival.

Billy “Badass” Buddusky (Nicholson) and Richard “Mule” Mulhall (Otis Young) are assigned “chasers” duty, which involves taking a young sailor by the name of Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to Portsmouth Naval Prison. He’s been sentenced to eight years for trying to steal $40 from the Commanding Officer’s wife’s pet charity project. They have a week to do it, but Buddusky proposes that they can pocket more of the per diem and spend it on the way home if they get Meadows there as fast as possible. I like how the film settles into a character-driven groove with a series of colorful encounters that provide insight into these guys after efficiently setting up the premise.

Meadows is just a scared kid that did something stupid and pissed off the wrong person as a result. Meadows has hardly had any life experiences and will be denied the possibility of them for eight long years unless Buddusky and Mulhall do something about it. Not surprisingly, Buddusky’s original plan goes out the window as he and Mulhall bond with Meadows by getting him drunk, stoned and laid in one last hurrah before eight years of imprisonment.

The Last Detail continued Jack Nicholson’s fascination with angry outsiders that live on the margins. It was the start of a great run of like-minded characters, beginning with Easy Rider. It is interesting to watch the choices he makes as an actor in this role, from the way Buddusky seems to sarcastically chew his gum to the way he wears his sailor’s cap. Nicholson is equally adept at showing the anger that simmers under his character’s façade and the explosion of rage that occurs when provoked, like the famous scene where a bartender refuses to serve the three sailors, which is reminiscent of the even more well-known diner scene in Five Easy Pieces. Later on, there’s a nice moment where Buddusky explains why he gets so angry and how liberating he finds it to wail on someone that ticks him off. He even tries to pick a fight with Meadows. It gives us some valuable insight into Buddusky’s volatile nature. Nicholson also shows us moments where his character is a consummate bullshit artist, like when he, Mulhall and Meadows get invited to a party in New York City and he tries to impress a young woman (Nancy Allen) by romanticizing life in the Navy. He’s stoned and getting nowhere with this girl who looks like she’d rather be anywhere else. Nicholson effortlessly inhabits the role in a way that seemed to disappear through the late 1980s and beyond when he relied more and more on his movie star persona.

Fresh-faced Randy Quaid does a nice job of conveying his character’s clueless naiveté. He plays Meadows as a pathetic mess of a human being. With his young, soft face, the actor projects a kind of innocence, but his actions sometimes say otherwise. For example, on the train he tries to make a break for it and when caught breaks down crying. Quaid achieves just the right mix of awkwardness and an occasional sympathetic side to keep us interested in this bundle of contractions all the while holding his own against a flashy actor like Nicholson. Quaid exhibits character behavior that is intriguing to watch – so much so that we want to know more about Meadows. Why did he try to steal the money? Over the course of the film, Buddusky and Mulhall try to find out what motivates this kid. As they get closer to prison, Quaid shows how the inevitable weighs more and more on Meadows’ mind by facial expressions, which oscillate between contemplative and anxious.

Otis Young has the least flashiest role, but it is a crucial one as he provides the stable, calming voice of reason, trying to keep everyone on track. When Buddusky comes up with some wild idea or wants to diverge from their mission, Mulhall is the sober realist and this sometimes causes friction between him and Buddusky, but when they are presented with an outside threat they quickly close ranks.

Robert Towne’s script hits us up with salty language right from the get-go, but it never feels false or forced because it rolls off the tongue so easily off someone like Nicholson who curses as naturally as breathing. I also like how the film is set during the winter months and you can tell that they actually shot it during that time by how you can see the actors’ breath in outdoor scenes. It looks so cold that it is almost tangible, most notably in a scene towards the end when the three sailors decide to have a makeshift picnic out in a snowbound park. They stand around freezing their asses off while trying to start a fire to cook hotdogs.

Producer Gerry Ayres had bought the rights to Darryl Ponicsan’s novel The Last Detail in 1969, but had difficulty getting it made because the studio was concerned about all of the bad language in Robert Towne’s screenplay, asking him to reduce the number of curse words. Towne told them, “This is the way people talk when they’re powerless to act; they bitch.” The screenwriter had refused to tone down the language and the project remained in limbo until Jack Nicholson, who was by then a bankable movie star, got involved. Towne, who was good friends with Nicholson, had written the role of Buddusky with the actor in mind.

Director Hal Ashby was in pre-production on Three Cornered Circle at MGM when Nicholson told him about The Last Detail, his upcoming project at Columbia Pictures. Ashby had actually been sent the script in the fall of 1971, but the reader’s report called it, “lengthy and unimaginative.” After looking at it again, he had warmed up to it. Ashby wanted to do it, but the project conflicted with his schedule for Three Cornered Circle. However, he pulled out of his deal, impressed by Nicholson’s loyalty, with MGM and took Nicholson’s suggestion that they work together on The Last Detail.

Ashby and Ayres read Navy publications and interviewed current and ex-servicemen who helped them correct minor errors in the script. During pre-production, Ashby worked with Towne on polishing the script and with Nicholson on his character. Ashby wanted to shoot on location at the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia and the brig at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but was unable to get permission from the U.S. Navy. However, the Canadian Navy was willing to cooperate and in mid-August 1972, Ashby and his casting director, Lynn Stalmaster, traveled to Toronto to look at a naval base and meet with actors. The base suited their needs and Ashby met actress Carol Kane whom he would cast in a small, but significant role.

Nicholson was set to play Buddusky and so the casting of The Last Detail focused mainly on the roles of Mulhall and Meadows. Nicholson and Towne were friends with Rupert Crosse and felt that he would be perfect as Mulhall. Bud Cort, who had worked with Ashby on Harold and Maude, begged the director to play Meadows, but he felt that the actor was not right for the role. Stalmaster gave Ashby a final selection of actors and the two that stood out were Randy Quaid and John Travolta. Quaid had the offbeat and vulnerable qualities that Ashby wanted.

Shortly before principal photography was to begin, Crosse discovered that he had terminal cancer and Ashby delayed production a week so that Crosse could come to terms with the news and decide if he still wanted to do the film. However, a day before filming was to begin, Crosse had to pull out and Ashby and Stalmaster scrambled to find a replacement, quickly casting Otis Young as Mulhall. Ashby had tried to get Haskell Wexler, Nester Almendros and Gordon Willis as the film’s director of photography, but when none of them were available, he promoted Michael Chapman, his camera operator on The Landlord (1970). Ashby and Chapman worked together to create a specific look for the film that involved using natural lighting to create a realistic, documentary style.

Ashby decided to shoot The Last Detail chronologically in order to help the inexperienced Quaid and the recently cast Young ease into their characters. Quaid was indeed very nervous and wanted to make a good impression. Ashby kept a close eye on the actor, but allowed him to grow into the role. With the exception of Toronto doubling as Norfolk, the production shot on location, making the same journey as the three main characters.

The day after principal photography was completed; Ashby had his editor send what he had cut together up to that point. The director was shocked at the results and fired the editor. The director was afraid that he’d have to edit the film himself. Ayres recommended brining in Robert C. Jones, one of the fastest editors in the business and who had been nominated for an Academy Award for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967). Jones put the film back into rushes and six weeks later had a first cut ready that ran four hours. Ashby was very impressed with Jones’ abilities and trusted him completely.

However, the studio was not happy with the length of time it was taking to edit The Last Detail as well as the amount of bad language in it. Columbia was in major financial trouble and needed a commercial hit. Jones called Ashby while he was in London meeting with Peter Sellers about doing Being There (1979), telling him that Columbia was fed up. The head of the editing department called to tell Ashby that a studio representative was coming to take the film away. However, Jones refused to give up the film and Ashby called the studio and managed to smooth things over with them.

By August 1973, the final cut of The Last Detail was completed and submitted to the MPAA, which gave it an R rating. Columbia was still not happy with the film and asked for 26 lines with the word “fuck” in them to be cut. Ashby convinced the studio to let him preview the film as it was to see how the public would react. The film was shown in San Francisco and the screening was a success. Columbia decided to give the film a limited release to qualify for Oscar consideration with a wide release in the spring of 1974. Both Nicholson and Quaid were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.

For all of their fun and wild times – including picking a fight with some army soldiers in a train station washroom – Meadows’ fate hangs over them like an ominous storm cloud that occasionally makes itself known. While Mulhall wants to take Meadows straight to prison, Buddusky wants to show the kid a good time because it will be the last one he’ll have for eight years. Even though, by the end of The Last Detail, Buddusky and Mulhall do their job, you can tell that Meadows got to them, past their hardened Navy lifer exteriors. For them, Meadows represents how fucked up the system is – that someone could get punished so severely for such a minor crime. It’s not right, but there is nothing they can do about it, which ends things on a rather melancholic note of resignation that is refreshing for a film that started off as a comedy.

The Last Detail performed well at the box office and it has gone to become an influential film, representing one of Nicholson’s finest performances of the ‘70s. It was an excellent early role for Quaid and was also part of a fine run of films during this decade for the character actor. And finally, for Ashby it marked another great effort in a decade chock full of classics as he would go on to make, including Shampoo (1975), Coming Home (1978), and Being There.