Tag Archives: Rian Johnson

Eternity’s Music, Faint and Far: Nate’s Top Ten Time Travel Films

I love a good time travel film. There’s something so purely exciting about opening up your story’s narrative to the possibility, and once you do the potential is almost endless. From the mind stretching nature of paradoxically puzzling storylines to the sheer delight of seeing someone stranded in an era not their own and adjusting to the radical development, it’s a sub-genre that always has me first in line to buy tickets. Here are my personal top ten favourites:

10. Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time

How’s this for a concept: H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) chases Jack The Ripper (David Warner) around 1800’s London, through a time machine and all over 1970’s San Francisco. This is a brilliant little picture because as sensational as this high concept is, the filmmakers approach the story from a place of character and emotion rather than big style SciFi spectacle or action. McDowell plays Wells as a compassionate, non violent fellow while Warner’s Jack relishes in the ultra-violent nature of the time period. This is also the film where McDowell met Mary Steenburgen and shortly after they were married.

9. Rian Johnson’s Looper

Time travel gets monopolized by the mafia in this stunning futuristic tale that is so specifically high concept it requires a near constant expository voiceover from Joseph Gordon Levitt so we can keep up. Playing an assassin hunting his future self (Bruce Willis), this has a vaguely steam punk feel to it, an uncommonly intelligent and surprisingly emotional script as well as scene stealing work from Emily Blunt, Pierce Gagnon, Paul Dano and a scruffy Jeff Daniels.

8. Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits

A young boy tags along on one hell of a epic adventure with a band of time travelling dwarves on the run from both the Devil (David Warner for the second time on this list, how nice) and God himself (Ralph Richardson). This is an exhilarating, lush example of what can be done with practical effects, from a giant walking out of the ocean to a Lego castle somewhere beyond time and space to a recreation of the Titanic. Not to mention the cast, which includes cameos from Gilliam’s Monty Python troupe regulars as well as Ian Holm, Shelley Duvall, Jim Broadbent and Sean Connery in several sly roles.

7. Robert Zemeckis’s Back To The Future

“Great Scott!!!!” Man, who doesn’t just love this film. It’s practically it’s own visual aesthetic these days, and spawned two fun sequels that couldn’t quite capture the enchantment found here. From scrappy antihero Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) to demented genius Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) this just hits all the right notes and gets a little taboo in the process as we see what would happen if someone ended up in the past and got hit on by their own mom. Yikes!

6. The Spierig Brothers’s Predestination

The less you know about this tantalizing, twisty flick going in the better, except to know that it will fuck your mind into submission with its narrative. Ethan Hawke plays a rogue temporal agent who’s been pursuing a relentless terrorist through time since he can remember, and finally has a plan he think will work to end the chase. Featuring Noah ‘exposition in every other SciFi film’ Taylor and the sensational new talent Sarah Snook, this is not one to miss and you’ll need a few viewings to appreciate it fully .

5. Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu

Scott’s trademark visual aesthetic blesses this kinetic, elliptical story of secret FBI technology used by keen ATF agent Denzel Washington to find and stop a mad bomber (Jim Caviesel) who has already slaughtered hundreds in a riverboat explosion. Adam Goldberg and Val Kilmer are welcome as agency tech experts but the real heart of this film lies in Washington’s relationship to a survivor of the incidents (Paula Patton) and how that plays into the fascinating central premise that doesn’t start *out* as actual time travel but gradually becomes apparent.

4. Gregory Hoblit’s Frequency

A father son relationship is the beating heart of this tale of cop Jim Caviesel (again!) and his firefighter dad Dennis Quaid. They are able to communicate across a thirty year gulf of time and the barriers of death itself via a miraculous HAM radio and some pseudo science involving the aurora borealis. This provides an exciting, involving and heartbreaking dual experience as the son races to find ways to save his dad from several different grim fates and take down a nasty serial killer while he’s at it. This film has aged so well mostly due to the genuine emotion felt between the family including mom Elizabeth Mitchell. The yearning to escape perimeters of linear time and reconnect with passed loved ones is especially prescient for me nowadays days based on my own recent experiences and as such the film holds extra weight now. A classic.

3. James Cameron’s The Terminator

Artificial intelligence works out time travel for itself in Cameron’s ballistic gong show of an action classic that sees freedom fighter Michael Biehn, civilian turned survivor Linda Hamilton, homicidal cyborg Arnold Schwarzenegger and a few hundred short lived cops engaged in a bloody, brutal fight for the future. I picked this over the sequel because the notion of time travel in the saga overall feels freshest and most well worked out here, despite my love for T2 being just a smidge higher on the gauge. Perhaps it’s also because the excellent Biehn makes damn believable work of convincing us that he’s a weary, distraught soldier from a different era, and sells the concept with his beautiful performance.

2. John Maybury’s The Jacket

Hazy, experimental, haunting and atmospheric, this was not a critical hit and it’s chilly vibe is evidence of that, but beneath that there’s a heartfelt story of confused gulf war vet Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) trying to make sense of his shattered psyche while surviving a gnarly mental institution run by a madman with a god complex (Kris Kristofferson). Somewhere along the way he discovers he can jump through time and uses the phenomena to investigate his own death and prevent others from happening. Featuring a low key, emotional turn from Keira Knightley and fantastic supporting work from Daniel Craig, Kelly Lynch and Jennifer Jason Leigh, this is a harrowing psychological thriller that gradually reveals itself as a meditation on life, death and the realms in between.

1. Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

Gilliam gets two on this list, lucky him! He deserves it though, this is a curious film with unbelievable production design, a deeply felt performance from Bruce Willis and one from Brad Pitt that kind of defies description and erases doubts of his immense talent from anyone’s mind. Willis is a convict sent back in time from a bleak future to discover how and why a deadly virus wiped out most of earth’s population and sent the rest into subterranean caves. It’s not the film you’d expect and the sad, eerie resolution at the end is something that will stick with you for a long time.

Once again thanks for reading! There’s many that didn’t make the list as it’s tough to just pick ten, but I’d love to hear some of your favourite time travel films!

-Nate Hill

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THE ‘HIT’ MAN: An Interview with Dominik Starck by Kent Hill

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Dominik Starck is a cool guy who loves and makes movies. That’s a man I’m down for spending some time with – so I did. His new movie, The Hitman Agency, is a complex nest of intrigue, danger, action and redemption. Throw those altogether and you have a great blend that tastes a little like something we’ve had before – yet it’s flavored by Mr. Starck’s unashamed passion for his many cinematic influences as well as the sheer joy he has being a filmmaker.

Most of us, at one time or another, who make fatal decision to go off and pursue a career as an artist, are met with the inevitable speech for our parents which carries the immortal lines like, “You’ll never make any money,” or “Why don’t you get a real job.”

Now Dominik tried that – he tried to deny the fire inside, the voice telling him he wasn’t doing what he was meant to be doing. He wasn’t, as the Bard would say, to thy own self being true.  So he started doing what he had to do, and, for my money, what he does well – he started making movies.

“Making an indie film is close to being a hitman; choose your goal, aim and go after it no matter the obstacles. And like assassinations, it’s a hit and miss with movies. I consider our movie the latter but it’s up to the target audience to decide if that’s the truth or not,” says Starck, the writer/director. While the German independent production by Starck Entertainment and R.J. Nier Films is represented by distributor Generation X Group GmbH at the film market in Cannes (May 8th to 17th) for international sales, the US audience is the first to be able to watch THE HITMAN AGENCY on Amazon.com where it’s available for rent and buy.

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This movie is the directorial debut of writer/producer Dominik Starck who previously worked on the award winning mercenary action film ATOMIC EDEN, starring Blaxploitation legend Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson and Lorenzo Lamas (RENEGADE). While being a deliberately different type of movie, THE HITMAN AGENCY features a special appearance by 11 time kickboxing champion Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson from BLOODFIST-fame. Starring American-born Erik Hansen (THE COUNTESS) and LA-based Everett Ray Aponte (ATOMIC EDEN) as competing hitmen from different ends of their assassin-careers, THE HITMAN AGENCY is a character-driven conspiracy-thriller with twists and turns, spiced with some martial arts outbreaks and assassinations. Shot on locations in Germany in English with more blood, sweat, and tears than a real budget, this underdog movie is proof to the phrase that nothing can stop you from making a movie when you really want it. Not even in Germany where there’s no platform for genre films at all.

Like I said at the top, Dominik is a cool guy and a cool filmmaker. He was worried about his English before we spoke but I tell you now as I told him then – “his English is as beautiful as his film-making.” Seek out THE HITMAN AGENCY… (follow the link below)

https://www.amazon.com/Hitman-Agency-Everett-Ray-Aponte/dp/B07BY5Y1XL

Emerging from the river of wind: Remembering Slipstream with Tony Kayden by Kent Hill

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Slipstream was alluring from the moment I saw the poster in the front window of my local theater. From the producer of STAR WARS and the director of TRON was the proclamation, and I was sold. The film, even then, delivered, as far as I am concerned. It offered a different world, an intriguing premise, great performances and . . . yes, I’ll admit a disjointed viewing experience. Still, I love the movie and have always been curious as to the production and what elements combined to bring this fascinating story to the screen.

At length, I finally made contact with Tony Kayden, a veteran screenwriter and the credited scribe of the film (as well as a man with his own amazing set of adventures in the screen trade). And it didn’t take long to learn that the narrative irregularities of Slipstream were the result of no one really knowing what kind of film they wanted to make.

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With the money in escrow, the movie was being made, that was definite. The script that Tony was brought on to rework was, at its heart, a stock-standard Star Wars rehash. Enter producer Gary Kurtz. After enjoying success serving alongside George Lucas and Jim Henson on the Dark Crystal, Kurtz came to the project seeing another unique film on a grand scale and an adventure born in the wind. The director tapped to steer the ship was Tron director Steve Lisberger. His work on Tron was extraordinary, original, and one could only imagine what he might do with a larger canvas combined with thrilling aerial action, accompanying a compelling human story. But then then problems began. The Producers wanted action and more sexual interaction where possible. Kurtz wanted something cleaner, no graphic violence and something more Star Wars. Lastly there was Lisberger, having just become a father, and wanting to make something for kids.

Then you have the poor writer. Only hired for four weeks, Tony ended up residing in England for three months, trying in vain to mix this maelstrom of indecisiveness into a cohesive plot. Kayden saw the movie as a kind of post-apocalyptic version of the The Last Detail. You can see the surviving elements of this in the interactions between Bill Paxton and Bob Peck’s characters of Matt and Byron. One a fugitive being taken in for the reward, the other an opportunist looking to make a quick buck. But, ultimately they become friends and seek to merely flow with the slipstream they are, for better or worse, traveling along.

These two are chased by Tasker, Mark Hamill, in a platinum performance as the mustache-twisting law man whose faith has been replaced by devotion to duty and routine whilst maintaining order here in this desolate society. He harbors a Javert/Valijean type relationship with Peck’s curiously, emotionally-distant accused killer – who just so happens to be an android.

The journey down the stream brings Matt and Bryon into contact with fellow adventurers/survivors Sir Ben Kingsley (who after a chat about the script in the commissary with Tony, sought out a part in the movie), and eventually, another Oscar winner in the person of F. Murray Abraham, the caretaker of one of the last sanctuaries – a literal museum to the past, complete with all its folly and decadence.

But the movie ends in tragedy and triumph. While the evil pursuer is vanquished, Bryon’s hopes for happiness are dashed. He is forced to leave his new found friend and seek out his own kind, wherever they may be.

That all might come across as a little confusing? Like I said before, the film is disjointed. This doesn’t prevent it, however, from being fun. The the actors give solid performances, the photography is brilliant, the locations amazing, Elmer Bernstein’s score magnificent – it is just a shame that the powers behind this movie couldn’t seem to agree.

As Tony told me, “the writer often takes the blame.” Though that is not the case here. If anything he should be commended for fighting the good fight in a losing battle.

Still, my fondness for Slipstream endures. In part for what it is, but also for the possibility of what it might have been. Like I said to Tony, in the age of the reboot, there might be a second life yet for Slipstream. Now all we need to do is get Dwayne Johnson on board…

Best of 2017 Megacast!

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Frank, Tim, and Nate gather together to discuss this year’s Oscar nominations and then get into what they thought should have been nominated, running down their own top ten best pictures, and also giving their top five in each category. We will taking a week off and then we’ll be back with a vengeance with our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast!

It’s time to see The Last Jedi . . . again: A Review by Kent Hill

I am stunned. I am still. I am at a loss for words. I have just come from seeing The Last Jedi, and really all can muster is . . . it is a miracle.

I am going to try and avoid spoilers but I may fail, so, if you haven’t seen the movie stop reading now.

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was young and Star Wars was new. I don’t think I came out of that dark room in which I saw the first film, and the person that did – he certainly wasn’t the same kid who walked in. A long time have I watched, looking away, to the future, to the horizon, watching, what we who were there from the beginning will come to remember as, the saga of the Skywalkers.

I had read other reviews, seen teasers and trailers. The clever thing is though . . . this movie doesn’t go the way you think. Throw all the theories out of the window, forget all you know – or think you know. Breathe, just breathe. Now, sit back and watch The Last Jedi.

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We begin in a fury, in the heat of battle. Good versus evil, a staple of the Star Wars movies. Then it goes wrong and the good guys will lose. Because, as you’ll discover, this time round, it isn’t about winning and losing. It’s about existing. It’s a beautiful sentiment at the heart of this picture. Saving, indeed savoring, the things we love the most.

After all, what have we all been doing since 1977. Savoring this thing we love right? Mr. Johnson captured that so well. In fact, when it was all over, Bill Pullman’s line from Independence Day popped into my head, “He did it – the sonofabitch did it.”

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Abrams had the easy assignment if you think about it. He had to wake the force up. That’s not hard when you’ve got legions of fans awaiting to listen. The hard task is the difficult second album – trying like hell to be the one that strikes back. And, for my money, for this trilogy, for this time round – this is the new Empire Strikes Back. It can’t be the original – nothing will top that, but TLJ stands shoulder to shoulder with it.

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I think I have remarked a number of times to friends and family about what I thought the first words might have been out of Luke’s mouth back where Mr. Abrams left us in 2015. What he does retort with is better than a line or a speech, and it’s one of many moments of levity that the movie needed. I heard the voice of Irvin Kershner in my mind, talking about injecting humor into Empire. He was right then, as Mr. Johnson was right now. It is all about balance – the dark rises and the light to meet it.

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Two reviews I read prior to going in brought up two interesting points. One which I thought was kinda confirmed, whilst the other was dispelled. The first was that TLJ was almost like Empire in reverse. I found this to be, for me, delightfully true, and I’m surprised at how well that formula worked. Where Abrams was criticized for leaning to heavily on the crutch of A New Hope, Johnson seems to have avoided the problem by simply changing direction, which he does quite often. Be prepared.

Abrams surprisingly followed this theory to success with the first of the new Star Trek films, however grossly ignoring it for his own sequel. But it is well, not only if he stepped away from the director’s chair for fear of this, but that fresh eyes often make all the difference. I enjoyed Looper, but when they said that guy is going to not only write but direct Episode VIII, I was like half interested, half fearful.

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But we shouldn’t fear, should we. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.

Another element I like about TLJ is the fact that, more so than The Force Awakens, this felt like not only handing over the torch, but just throwing it away. I love how in the backgrounds of these movies we see the remnants of Star Wars past. From Rey’s junkyard home, to Luke’s X-Wing beneath the waters surrounding his fortress of solitude – even in Rogue One there is that giant fallen statue of a Jedi; the only true way to keep something going in this life is to keep it fresh and expose it to constant reinvention.

There’s lots of fun new creatures. LOVE THOSE PORGS! There’s some fun new locales. Mr. Williams musical voice sings a few new tunes and lovingly reminds us of a few old ones. The action is breathless, the reversals effective and plentiful. There are great revelations and many new questions.

Oh Look. You see what’s happened? I started off wanting to write a review and here I now find the need to be silent again. There is nothing I can tell you that you should ultimately listen to, except this: I have never seen a more beautiful journey that does as each new day does for us all; beginning and ending, staring off to the horizon, watching the rising and or setting of that bright sphere at the center of our galaxy.

When I was younger than I am now, I felt like Luke Skywalker, gazing off into those twin suns and longing for the next day, for the journey ahead. It is fitting then that TLJ comes now, and I am a much older man. You’ll know the moment when it comes. The twin suns will set and maybe, just maybe, your heart will swell as mine does even now, and I am at a loss for words. TLJ has touched me in a way I’ve not experienced in the cinema for a while now – and I am the better for it.

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So if you have seen the movie, I hope you enjoyed it – were thrilled by it. For those of you for whom this is their first Star Wars experience, rejoice, there’s more out there to discover – more still to come. For those who haven’t seen it – man, get away from this screen and get down to your local theatre real quick – what’s the matter with you?

It is fitting that the last line belongs to a certain character, and speaking of said line, it echoes my sentiments exactly:

In The Last Jedi, “We have everything we need – right here.”

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