Tag Archives: Richard Dreyfuss

SYLVAIN DESPRETZ: Los Ángeles by Kent Hill

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I don’t profess to be anything except a guy who really loves his movies. So I was, needless to say, humbled when Sylvain Despretz, illustrator extraordinaire and Hollywood veteran, asked for my opinion on his new book Los Ángeles .

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The thoughts (abridged) I rendered unto him are as follows:

“Right off the bat I concede we have a very similar taste in movies, beginning on the opening page where you count James Mason among your idols. You have a free-flowing narrative style here – mixed in with a little distain for certain elements of ‘The Industry’. Yet there, embedded in your frankness, and if you know the lyrics to Billy Joel’s Piano Man, you strike me in predicament alone, to be like John the bartender; sure that he could be a movie star . . . if he could get out of this place.

So in that I feel your journey is unique – in the sense that you have been surrounded by the business, yet are melancholic, purely because you are no different than any other kid who wanted to run off and join the circus – you longed to be a lion tamer – you wanted to be a director.

Still I can’t wait to see this all come together. As I read your words I heard your voice and am reminded of great quotes from the towers of their fields from days past. Well, two in particular. One I heard Peter Guber say: “Success has many fathers and failure is an orphan.” And the other comes from Harrison Ellenshaw,  “Shakespeare never had a word processor . . . and now we word processors we have no Shakespeare’s.” Your life is extraordinary and the tapestry upon which your weave this tale is rich in texture and bold in attack.”

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Los Ángeles is a book that is much about one man’s love of cinema as it is his adventures in the screen trade. It might get personal, and it does…in the best sense. This separates it from the generic ‘greatest hits’ compilations which would merely be satisfied showing you only the art from the films and pictures of the movie masters Sylvain has been privileged to rub shoulders with.

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But this is not a film book. It’s about art, life, and loving movies so deeply you feel them at the source of everything that inspires one to create. Sylvain and I always have the most engaging and complex conversations, which are always nice to have with like-minded cineastes, especially when we share a similar perspective on what great films are and how they touch us.

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Life like cinema is about a series of moments. We all know the films we like, still, when asked, we find ourselves recounting the scenes which really spoke to us. Robert Altman once told his wife about his first viewing on David Lean’s A Brief Encounter. She recalled that, though Altman was initially just casually watching the movie, by the end, he had fallen in love with the films leading lady, Celia Johnson, and was utterly moved by the story unfurled.

Thus is the power of cinema, and the heart of Sylvain Despretz’s Los Ángeles.

As it has been written, so has it been done.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON Los Ángeles, VISIT THE PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE HERE:

https://caurette.com/?fbclid=IwAR1Y5EdeVzKGdCZ1o2G-VExxykJR8ejEgEuphdnMHYkBiS7Frk2CbVHT5J8

Frank Oz’s What About Bob?

Frank Oz’s What About Bob? is one of those films that doesn’t know what wants to be and as such can’t settle down into one aesthetic. I can appreciate that sometimes but usually only when the film in question is a sort of patchwork amalgamation of different stuff on purpose, and not one simple story that should tune itself into one frequency before hitting go.

Bill Murray is Bob, a sweet guy who doesn’t quite understand the concept of boundaries and pushes them any chance he gets, sometimes unknowingly. He suffers from Obsessive Compulsive disorder and anxiety, which these days is being treated with much more thought and care in Hollywood and the real world. His psychiatrist (Richard Dreyfuss) brushes him off to head out from NYC to New Hampshire on vacation with his family, so what does Bob do? Follow him of course, and interrupt an already tense family retreat with his constant need for attention, validation and help with simple everyday things like opening a car door. Dreyfuss’s family (Julie Hagerty, Kathryn Erbe and the kid from Hook) love Bob and the good doctor can’t stand him.

The problem with this film is it can’t figure out who to sympathize with. Is Bob crazy and genuinely making this family’s life hell? Is he just a good dude and it’s the doctor who’s crazy for trying to get him out of his life? Are the rest of the family crazy for warming up to a total stranger/stalker so quick? Who cares? The script sure doesn’t seem to because when the third act rolls around and it should be time to wrap up arcs in a way that feels earned, it goes totally ballistic and characters begin to act fucking nuts, at least too much so for a benign ‘comedy’ like this anyhow. Murray’s performance is likeable enough to not be completely over the edge but the character is untethered from meaningful revelations or pathos. Dreyfuss starts at unlikeable and only escalates from there into a solid gold asshole, while the family is hit and miss. My favourite scene of the film shows Bob driving to the lake with the daughter (Erbe), discussing Bob’s issues and what makes them both anxious in life, respectively. It’s the only scene in the film that takes anything remotely seriously or gives a thought to this story, and the rest is just misguided noise. Avoid.

-Nate Hill

THE ‘SHOWDOWN’ TRIPLE FEATURE by Kent Hill

This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .

Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.

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These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly,  died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.

The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.

For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky (The man on the rise), Matthias Hues (The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman (the veteran screenwriter).

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Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.

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Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

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Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.

 

 

 

The Sentinal: A Review by Nate Hill 

The Sentinel is one of the weirdest thing you’ll ever see. It’s less of a horror and more just a parade of bizarro world situations strung together loosely by a vague haunted apartment story. A young model (Christina Baines) has found a sweet deal on an uptown flat, inhabited by only herself and a blond priest (John Carradine). It’s just too bad that when a deal seems to good to be true in these kinds of movies, there’s almost always some kind of sinister agenda behind it. It’s not too long before spooky stuff comes along, starting with strange physical problems, creepy encounters with her odd lesbian neighbors, flashbacks to her attempted suicide and psychic disturbances that can’t be explained. She soon realizes that she has been brought to this building for a very specific and decidedly sinister reason. The way I described all that sounds kind of routine and pedestrian, but trust me when I say that there’s nothing generic or run of the mill about this absurdity of a film. Everything has a very disconcerting and surreal feel to it, particularly in a whopper of a climax where a portal to hell is opened and all sorts of babbling loonies pour out, deformed, whacked out and adorned in some of the most creatively gross practical effects that will give your gag reflex a solid workout. The film also speckled with a diverse group of actors, some of them quite young looking when you remember that this was 1977. A chatty Eli Wallach shows up as a detective, with a youthful Christopher Walken in tow as his partner, Ava Gardner of all people has a cameo, and watch for Burgess Meredith, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, William Hickey, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Dreyfuss, Chris Sarandon, and Tom Berenger in what must have been one of his very first gigs, a literal walk on part. Very distinct and memorable film, one that pushed the boundaries considering the time period, and never let’s the weirdness mellow down for a single minute. 

Red: A Review by Nate Hill 

Despite being somewhat neutered by the ever present annoyance of the PG-13 rating, Red is some of the most fun you can have with in the glib assassin subgenre of action comedy. Bold, hilarious and just a little bit demented, it jumps right off the pages of the graphic novel it was based on for just under two hours of wiseass popcorn movie nirvana, hosted by a cast that’s almost too good to be true. ‘RED’ stands for ‘Retired Extremely Dangerous’, a moniker given to aging ex contract killers who have laid down the guns, but are still closely watched by the CIA. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is one such person, languishing in the doldrums of forced retirement, bored out of his mind and chatting endlessly with a cutey call center girl (Mary Louise Parker). Things get freaky when deranged former associate Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) pays him a visit, belting out wild theories about the CIA sending operatives to terminate him. Before he knows it, Frank is swept up in espionage and intrigue once again, pursued by a slick, ruthless agency man (a deadly Karl Urban doing the anti-007 shtick nicely), with Parker in tow, whose terrified reactions to the escalating violence and deadpan sociopaths around her get funnier and funnier as the film progresses. Helen Mirren is regal gold as a well spoken ex MI6 spook who dissolves corpses in bathtubs full of acid, right before afternoon tea, I presume. Watching this dainty waif rock a Barrett 50 caliber and make red mist out of her enemies is one of the many mental pleasures one can get from this flick. Morgan Freeman takes it easy as another former buddy of theirs from the older, and I imagine, more agile days. As for the supporting cast, hell, take your pick. Richard Dreyfuss is a slimy Trump-esque politician lowlife, an underused James Remar shows up for a very brief cameo, as does that old toad Ernest Borgnine, Julian McMahon once again shows that no one wears a suit like Julian McMahan, and that lovable imp Brian Cox almost walks away with the film as a sly devil of a Russian agent who woos Mirren with the silver tongued virility of a fox. What works so well the dynamic between the three leads; Malkovich is mad as as hatter, Willis plays exasperated babysitter and Parker looks on in horror that starts to turn into amusement with every outlandish scenario. Action comedies are tricky recipes, and it’s easy to let too much of one ingredient slip into the pot. This one keeps a steady trigger finger that’s locked onto the funny bone and positively sails. 

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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I have been fascinated by UFOs and the notion of life on other planets ever since I was a kid and saw Steven Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). At the time, it made a huge impression on me as it did with many of my generation. Nowadays, most people dismiss stories about UFOs or alien abductions as tabloid fare. They laugh at the stories of people being snatched by “little green men,” but over the years there have been some really interesting cases that have come to light.

In the past 40 years, the idea of UFOs and alien sightings has been investigated by numerous psychologists and psychiatrists like Carl Jung. Some of the first recorded sightings can be traced back to the late 1940s and during the 1950s when the UFO craze really took off. After this initial phenomenon died down, reports began to drop off as more and more people scoffed at the idea that people may have been abducted. They say that there’s no physical evidence that UFOs exist, but perhaps there is no publicly acknowledged physical evidence that UFOs exist. Spielberg’s film takes this idea and runs with it in an entertaining and engaging way that continues to fascinate me after all these years.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind begins in the Sonora Desert, Mexico during a blinding sandstorm. A group of scientists drive up in two vehicles. They are there because of a squadron of American World War II era fighter planes that have mysteriously resurfaced minus their pilots after disappearing during a training run in 1945. The scientist, led by a Frenchman named Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) question an old man who was there when the planes appeared and he claims that the sun came out at night and sang to him. I love the opening image of headlights just barely piercing the intense storm. Spielberg establishes a fantastic air of mystery during this sequence, which leads us right into the next scene.

At an air traffic control center in Indianapolis, a controller is in communication with pilots in two different planes that experience a brief run-in with a UFO. Nobody can explain it, but the pilots don’t want to report it as such. What I like about this sequence is that we get a few more teasing details about the alien craft from the pilots, but we don’t actually see anything, which only adds to the intrigue.

In Muncie, Indiana, a little boy named Barry (Cary Guffey) is awoken in the middle of the night by his toys suddenly activating. He’s not scared, but excited as if he’s met some new playmates. The sounds of crickets and the play of shadows across Barry’s room reminds me of summer nights as a child and really draws me in to this scene. The use of light inside and outside the house (including a brief glimpse at an incredible starry sky) is tremendous.

These three atmospheric teasers are all part of the same mystery – that whatever made the planes reappear almost caused two commercial airliners to crash into each other and also activated all of a little boy’s toys. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography really shines in these early scenes, from the sandstorm in Mexico to the rural Muncie home to the beautiful night sky full of stars as electrical lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) goes on a call. Spielberg creates a tangible sense of place that immediately draws you into the film.

Roy is the film’s protagonist and I like how Spielberg expertly sets up the family dynamic of the Neary’s, like how Roy chastises his kids for having zero interest in going to a screening of Walt Disney’s animated classic Pinocchio (1940). He lives in a noisy, chaotic household and kind of acts like a kid himself. Roy soon has his own close encounter that changes his life forever. While he’s out on a call, late one night, a UFO hovers over his vehicle and bathes him in a blinding light. On his C.B. radio, Roy hears of others seeing what he saw and heads off in pursuit. Spielberg continues to tease us as a large shadow flies ominously over the stretch of road that Roy is driving along. He literally crosses paths with Barry and his mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon), narrowly avoiding running over the little boy with his truck. They witness several UFOs flying by in graceful formation at an incredible speed.

After his experience, Roy becomes obsessed with what he saw much to the chagrin of his family who don’t understand what he’s going through. Richard Dreyfuss does a fantastic job at conveying his character’s newfound mania. Roy is practically euphoric, but there is also a sense of child-like wonder and we are meant to share these sentiments. Spielberg takes us back and forth between the global and the personal, with Lacombe and his assistant Laughlin (Bob Balaban) going all over the world gathering evidence, and Roy’s own journey as he tries to make sense of an image of a large mountain in his head, which turns out to be Devils Tower in Wyoming.

Roy and Jillian’s journey to Devils Tower is an exciting adventure as they cover a lot of terrain, first by car and then by foot, facing constant opposition by the military. Throughout, Spielberg creates all kinds of tension as the two run across ominous signs that something isn’t right, like the livestock that lie dead by the side of the road. They risk getting caught several times and when they are captured, even manage to subsequently escape. This sequence also shows the United States’ government’s response to all of this activity. They create a fake threat to get people who live near Devils Tower to evacuate because Lacombe and his team believe that is where the aliens will establish contact. With the scandal of Watergate still fresh in people’s minds at the time, this elaborate ruse must’ve rung true with audiences who had a healthy distrust of their government. Spielberg really uses the environment around Devils Tower to great effect. You get a real sense of place and how imposing a structure it is for Roy and Jillian to traverse.

Fresh from his excellent supporting role in Jaws (1975), Richard Dreyfuss delivers a wonderfully layered performance as a man who doesn’t understand what’s happening to him. He knows what he saw and experienced, but is unable to get anyone to believe him, not even his family. Roy also has visions of a place he feels compelled to go to, but can’t articulate beyond constructing mountain-like images out of his mashed potatoes or mounds of dirt. It drives him and his family a little crazy and there’s a moving scene where Roy breaks down in front of his family during dinner that really makes you empathize with the poor guy. Eventually, his obsession is too much for his wife (Teri Garr) and kids and they leave him, afraid that his madness will consume them as well. It’s really quite incredible how much Roy alienates his family – something that, sadly, Spielberg has said he would never do now that he has a family of his own. It is heartbreaking to see how Roy’s mania affects his kids, causing them to act out, but Roy can’t help himself. Dreyfuss is so good at conveying this compulsion, this drive to make sense of what Roy experienced. Spielberg is unafraid to show the extremes of Roy’s behavior and how it affects his family.

Close Encounters’ impressive practical visual effects still hold up, like the animated cloud formation that occurs when the aliens appear and take Barry away or the colorful quartet of UFOs that Roy chases in his truck. These effects, in particular the show-stopping finale, are still awe-inspiring and have a tangible quality that has not dated at all. With the Barry abduction sequence, Spielberg demonstrates how you can convey so much by doing very little. With the use of lighting effects and some practical tricks, he creates an intense, nerve-wracking scene as the little boy is taken from his mother right from their house. We never actually see the aliens or the craft. This is all left up to our imagination. For most of the film we are only given glimpses of the UFOs as Spielberg gradually builds to the exciting climax where contact is achieved.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s influence can be seen either stylistically or thematically in other like-minded film such as The Abyss (1988), Contact (1997), Signs (2002), and, the most obvious homage, Super 8 (2011). For the ending of his film, Spielberg took a page out of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) by making the aliens benign and enigmatic. Instead of falling back on the tried and true clichés of alien invasion movies from the 1950s, Spielberg presents aliens that only wish to communicate with us. He created a film full of wonder and hope, culminating in the transcendent climax where we make contact with the aliens. It is an incredible display of good ol’ fashion practical effects that is truly something to behold.

closeencounters2Close Encounters of the Third Kind was made by someone who sincerely believed that there was intelligent alien life on other planets and that if it did exist would not want to wipe us out. This yearning for answers, for wanting to believe is embodied perfectly in Spielberg surrogate Roy Neary. Whether or not you believe in life on other planets, this film still tells an entertaining and engaging story – a global-spanning epic that still feels personal and intimate. This was the first film Spielberg had made that he felt truly passionate about it and this is evident in every frame, brimming with sincerity and idealism that flew in the face of a lot cynicism of the 1970s. As a result, Close Encounters was a touchstone film for me. Seeing it a young age affected me profoundly and still does to a certain degree. It also spoke to a young, impressionable generation, instilling in them a fascination and wonder for the possibilities of intelligent life on other planets.