Tag Archives: Richard Gere

The Jackal

If you ever want to see Bruce Willis being a nasty bastard check out The Jackal, a pulpy remake of a 70’s spy flick that ramps up the intrigue, ultra-violence and takes a decidedly silly turn with its set pieces. Despite the fact that he and Richard Gere are kind of miscast, they both somehow get the intensity right and bring the heat even though we never really believe them in the roles. Willis is the titular Jackal, a sadistic international assassin whose methods get so elaborate you wonder where he gets the energy from. Gere is the imprisoned IRA radical who is sprung by super agent Sidney Poitier to bring him down. Willis’s next job is supposedly one that will put the delicate forces of international diplomacy off their axis and therefore the powers that be have allowed dangerous Gere to come into play as a ‘fight fire with fire’ mentality, which as any student of action movie narratives knows, never really ends well. Gere seems out of place as both an Irishman and an antihero but is fun to watch nonetheless, while Willis hams it up royally with a stoic grimace and enough high powered weaponry to bring down a building. Poitier always seems dignified no matter the material and such is the case here. The real scene stealer though is underrated character actress Diane Venora as Poitier’s partner, a scary badass of a Russian agent who displays more grit and grizzle than both Willis and Gere combined. Other work is observed from JK Simmons, Tess Harper, Stephen Spinella, Mathilda May, Sophie Okonodo and others. One scene always stood out though for years, and for awhile I didn’t even know what film it was from as a watched it with my dad when I was very young. Jack Black plays a shady arms dealer who hooks up Willis with product, but he gets a bit greedy with his paycheque. Willis, not impressed, loads up a giant 50 caliber cannon, tells him to start running and blows his fucking arm off from a few hundred yards out. Needless to say that scene made a spectacular impression on me and for years I just knew it as ‘that movie where Bruce Willis fucks up Jack Black with a 50cal’ until I eventually went for a rewatch. Not a great film but worth it for that scene alone, and the production value.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

Richard Pearce’s No Mercy

Richard Pearce’s No Mercy is essentially a formula cop/revenge flick with all the recognizable elements visible, but it’s done so damn well that any generic beats don’t even really matter when you’re treated to atmosphere, action and chemistry this good. Richard Gere is an actor who gets cast as the affluent business guy or clean cut hero often, but he’s most effective when they let him fly his freak flag a bit and show some edge, he’s scary here as an unhinged Chicago detective out to avenge the savage murder of his partner following a botched sting operation that wasn’t even sanctioned to begin with. He’s led from the grey urban sprawl of the Windy City to sweaty, jazz soaked backroads of New Orleans in pursuit of a really nasty local kingpin (Jeroen Krabbe) responsible for the bloodshed. There’s naturally a blonde bombshell (Kim Basinger) who belongs to this monster since she was sold to him at age thirteen, and naturally sparks fly between the two as they fall in love amidst a rain of bullets, standoffs, chases and shootouts. You might be rolling your eyes and I’ll admit that the plot is well trodden soil but honestly this thing is so well made and engaging I didn’t care that I knew how it would all turn out because after all, the fun is in the journey there. Gere and Basinger have a natural rapport that isn’t rushed or forced and for a good two thirds of the film they hate each other in realistic fashion so that when passion eventually ignites it feels warranted. Plus the romance is so secondary to them simply meeting as two people that it never feels silly nor soppy and there’s somehow something sexier about her teaching him how to eat crawfish than the two of them actually getting it on. Gere is a live wire here, out of his element in the Bayou but determined to avenge his partner’s at any cost, including his own life. “If I die it’ll be on Chicago concrete!” He barks stubbornly, and we believe it. Basinger always brings a wounded nature to her work, she’s fantastic here as someone he believes to be a planted seductress until he learns that she’s just another victim. There’s a painful scene where she has to sign a lawyers form and when the attorney (perennial 80’s asshole William Atherton) announces that she can’t read, you can see the sympathy unclouded on Gere’s face. Sparks fly between these two and I’d love to see their other collaboration Final Analysis at some point. George Dzunda makes a fiery appearance as Gere’s wrecking ball of a precinct captain, a dude with a thousand yard glare who’s standing less than a foot from you. Alan Silvestri outdoes himself with a smokehouse of a score that accents Louisiana nicely and cues Krabbe’s bad guy in creepy fashion. This dude is one nasty piece of work, and the character can be forgiven for being one-note simply for how scary he is, a greasy haired, sadistic French bastard who enjoys gutting people with a knife and lords over the Bayou with a reign of ice terror. I’m not sure why this has amassed such a lukewarm overall reaction. It’s nothing innovative but everything it tries to do it does excellently. Stylish, immersive romantic crime thriller with a hot blooded central romance, well staged action scenes and atmosphere to spare.

-Nate Hill

“By the look of you, you haven’t come to bob for apples.” : Remembering Sword of the Valiant with Stephen Weeks by Kent Hill

Stephen Weeks interview

“How the hell do I relieve myself in this tin suit?”

Sword of the Valiant might come across as just another Cannon curiosity, especially for the uninitiated. For the casual observer it may simply look like another film in which another director managed to con Connery into yet another pair of strange/fancy duds?

sword of the valiant

But while Boorman managed to get Sean to into his Zardoz get-up, which for my money is more so in the strange/fancy category than SOTV, the film in total is both an elegant and joyful rendition of the days of Arthurian legend from my guest in this interview, Stephen Weeks.

sword_of_valiant_poster_01

Yes before Connery got to be the king himself in First Knight, before Clive Owen and way before Charlie Hunnam – in days of old, when knights were bold, there was the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which as I discovered, is not the film I know it to be. Turns out I’ve no seen it in all its glory…

Working with Cannon was by no means a cakewalk, as Stephen shall tell you. And the subsequent release of the picture was grossly mishandled. Thus, the world has really not experienced this movie as the filmmaker’s intended, and that was one of many intriguing tales proffered me by the eloquent Mr. Weeks.

cannon-ad-variety-june-16-1986

This was not his first rodeo, having made a version of the film some years earlier, Stephen saw this as an opportunity to expanded his canvas. Unfortunately for him and what no one knew, or knew well enough, at the time, was the grimy underbelly of the behemoth at the top which sat Golan and Globus.

val2

Despite these trappings, and now knowing what I know, I still love the movie and feel privileged to have been gifted an audience with its director, who not only informed and enlightened, but also entertained.

d230ec0c3eead7851b6ec672e0c33df3

Stephen Weeks is an impressive filmmaker and now is an accomplished author (please see the link to his work below). As a fan of his work and SOTV in particular, I enjoyed and hope you too shall enjoy, this little trip back into the mists of time – to a fantasy world, and a fantastic film…

 

 

Gregory Hoblit’s Primal Fear

Gregory Hoblit’s Primal Fear does a fine job of using opaque marketing to conceal it’s delicious, devilish secrets, a tactic that many films recklessly abandon and ruin far too much in trailers or posters. This is a careful exercise in serpentine plotting. Is it courtroom drama? Supernatural shocker? Psychological thriller? Pot-boiling procedural intrigue? Check it out and be as floored as audiences were for the first time back then. Richard Gere holds his end well as a legendary hotshot defence attorney in Chicago, one with a tarnished reputation and a penchant for defending unscrupulous clients. A weird case comes his way in the form of mentally challenged alter boy Edward Norton, accused of murdering someone high up in the clergy and causing a political hailstorm throughout the city. This is one of those thrillers that does genuinely keep you guessing, until literally the final frame, using human interaction and intimate performances to instigate reactions, rather than a barrage of special effects or manufactured narrative gimmicks. I’m being deliberately vague because this is the one film you don’t want spoiled for you ahead of time, it’s that cool. This was, I believe, the role that put Norton on the map, and he’s a gale force of electric energy, giving everyone else onscreen a huge run for their money. It’s fun watching Gere, an assured and confident pillar of law and order, slowly unravel and find himself at the mercy of malicious curveballs he doesn’t even see coming until they’ve hit. The cast is dynamite, with rockin’ turns from fiery John Mahoney as the worst mayor in Chicago’s history, Laura Linney as Gere’s hot tempered rival, Terry O’ Quinn, Alfre Woodward, Andre Braugher, Jon Seda, Frances McDormand, Maura Tierney, Joe Spano, Tony Plana and a slick Steven Bauer as a mob don with ties to Gere. This has all the trappings of a big, overblown thriller drawn from broad strokes, but Hoblit wisely brings it in in places, giving us a nuthouse claustrophobic shivers to go along with the big league intrigue. One of the best thrillers of the 90’s, and one that should get mentioned more often. I’ll also say it has to have one of the coolest DVD special edition covers ever, it’s always nice to see extra effort put into that arena.

-Nate Hill

Mark Pellington’s The Mothman Prophecies: A Review by Nate Hill 

Mark Pellington’s The Mothman Prophecies takes a harrowing look at a curious set of events that did indeed occur for real in the rural West Virginia area. Now, just how much of what we see in the film actually happened is eternally unclear, but I’ve read up on a lot of it and there’s enough testimonials, independent of each other, to both justify the film and shiver your spine. A myriad of unexplainable phenomenon plagued those poor people for some time back then, including visions, eerie phone calls and a mysterious red eyed creature in the shape of a giant moth. Businessman Richard Gere and wife Debra Messing come face to face with what appears to be this entity one night on a lonely stretch of highway, causing a grisly car crash and leaving Messing in a dire psychological state. With the help of a local policewoman (Laura Linney), Gere unwisely tries to figure out this terrifying mystery by putting himself way closer to the occurances than I would ever go, experiencing the stuff of nightmares along the way. Pellington comes from a music video background and as such he is incredibly adept at creating style and atmosphere (his opening credits for Arlington Road are almost as foreboding as anything in this film), two key elements in successfully telling a tale such as this. Gere wanders around in a daze most of the time, distraught over his wife’s condition and obviously influenced by forces unknown. Whatever is out there remains blessedly unseen save for a few hurried glimpses, say, behind a tree or at a kitchen window momentarily, spurring heart attacks from both audience and the poor sods stuck in this brooding bad dream. Rounding out the cast is Alan Bates as the obligatory historian who has seen this all unfold previously in some far corner of the world, and an excellent Will Patton in a frightening turn as a rural farmer who comes who becomes tragically influenced these dark forces. No one plays disturbed quite like him, a jittery, resolute calm always playing around in his eyes, the perfect presence to set anyone on edge. The finale sort of emerges from the chrysalis of dark atmospherics into large scale disaster mode, a choice which didn’t really work for me. I would have preferred to have it kept intimate and creepy right up until some kind of moody end, but they went with fireworks instead. Not enough to hurt the film of negate what came before though, it’s just too good of a time in the haunted house to be dragged down by anything, really. Chilling stuff. 

UNFAITHFUL – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

unfaithful_15

Sometimes it’s frustrating being a Diane Lane fan. For an actress so talented, she appears in a lot of dreck. For every The Outsiders (1983) or A Walk on the Moon (1999), there are three or four Must Love Dogs (2005) type clunkers. Yet, she gamely plugs along, turning in consistently good performances in even the most routine films (Murder at 1600). With Unfaithful (2002), she finally found material that could challenge her by portraying a fascinatingly flawed character in a provocative film. It was a remake of Claude Chabrol’s 1968 film, La femme infidele and was directed by Adrian Lyne, a filmmaker not afraid to court controversy by bringing a European sensibility to sex and sensuality in films like 9½ Weeks (1986), Indecent Proposal (1993), and Lolita (1997). With Unfaithful, he proposed a simple yet intriguing premise: why would a woman with a successful, loving husband and nice child threaten this security with an illicit affair with another man? While his film ultimately conforms to clichéd thriller conventions, Lane transcends the material with a career-best performance that garnered her all kinds of critical accolades and awards, chief among them an Academy Award nomination.

Constance Sumner (Lane) has it all: Edward (Richard Gere), a handsome husband with a successful business in New York City, and Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan), an adorable son. They live in a beautiful house on a lake outside of the city. Not to mention Connie has a body most women her age would kill for. The worst you could say about Connie and Edward’s marriage is that it’s gotten routine. They obviously still love each other and have that familiar shorthand that couples do after living together for years. For example, one morning she notices that he’s wearing a sweater inside out and lets him know before he goes off to work. We first see her in the midst of domesticity, doing the dishes and getting Charlie ready for school. She’s loving and supportive towards her husband and child.

Diane Lane and Richard Gere play this sequence well and are quite believable as a married couple by the way they interact with each other. Lyne inserts little details to reinforce their comfortable domesticity, like how Connie stops the dog bowl from moving around as their pet hungrily chows down on his food – it’s a move that looks like she’s done many times over the years. It also didn’t hurt that Lane and Gere were paired up previously in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club (1984) and while they didn’t have much chemistry together on that film, they at least had something to build on.

One particularly windy, blustery day, Connie goes into the city to run some errands and literally runs into a young man (Olivier Martinez) carrying an armful of books. They both go sprawling and she ends up scraping her knees. He invites her up to his apartment so that she can tend to her wounds and call for a taxi. His offer isn’t difficult for her to accept. He’s gorgeous looking and has a sexy French accent. Paul is a book dealer who just happens to look like fashion model – of course he does or how else are the filmmakers going to explain Diane Lane cheating on someone like Richard Gere? Paul is aloof and accommodating but when Connie goes off to use his telephone, he checks her out. The camera adopts his point-of-view, slowly moving up her long legs to her face. No one can quite make a trenchcoat look sexy like Lane does in this scene.

Paul startles Connie by gently placing an ice pack on her knee and first physical contact is made. The look she gives him, a sly smile, makes you wonder if it is at this moment that she first thinks about having an affair with this man. The extremely windy day that starts off this scene is a harbinger, an ominous warning of how turbulent Connie’s life will become once she accepts this man’s invitation. After this alluring encounter, Connie comes home to reality: toys lying around, the dog roaming around and her son watching television. Later, she and Edward try to make love but are interrupted by Charlie – the ultimate mood killer.

Home alone during the day, she checks out the book Paul gave her and inside is his business card. On an impulsive whim, she takes the train into the city and calls him on a pay phone. Paul invites her over and Connie accepts, turned on by the attention she is getting from this mysterious, attractive young man. Once there, he slyly puts the moves on her, taking off her coat so that his fingers brush up against her neck. Lane is excellent in this scene as she conveys the excitement her character feels being with this man, the apprehension of being unsure of what she’s doing, and the inner turmoil as you can tell that she’s trying to decide whether to leave or stay. Ultimately, Connie leaves and visits her husband at work, giving him a present out of the guilt she feels for seeing Paul.

She visits him again and he excites her in the way he looks and touches her. Paul looks at Connie in a very seductive way that makes her feel wanted and desired – something that she doesn’t feel with Edward. She has a moment of conscience where she tells Paul that what they are doing is a mistake, to which he replies, “There’s no such thing as a mistake. There’s what you do and what you don’t do.” Connie leaves and then comes right back to get her coat. Before she can say anything, Paul embraces here and literally sweeps her off her feet. Lyne does an interesting thing here. Instead of just showing their subsequent love scene, he breaks it up by intercutting Connie’s train ride home, juxtaposing her emotional reaction to what she’s done with the act itself. As he demonstrated with 9½ Weeks, Lyne certainly knows how to capture the erotic intimacy of a sex scene.

Lyne shows Paul gently touching Connie’s body, which is trembling in fear and excitement. The emotional turmoil that plays across Lane’s face is astounding as she displays a vulnerability that is quite raw. This gentle foreplay segues into something more primal as Connie attempts one more time to stop this and Paul tells her to hit him so that her aggressive passion that he knows lurks under her conflicted surface will take away her fear. It does as she pummels him and this gives way to passionate kisses as she hungrily devours him. This is intercut with Connie’s train ride home as she reflects on what she’s done. The range of emotions that play across her face as she replays it over in her mind is incredible to watch. She smiles to herself and her hand absently runs across her chest. Her mood darkens ever so gradually before lightening again as she smiles and then breaks out into a laugh. Finally, her face takes on a slightly sad expression. In only a few moments, she has run a whole gamut of emotions and pulls it off masterfully.

Edward has been married to Connie long enough to sense when something is off with her. Early on, he doesn’t have any definite indicator that something is amiss except for a possible small lie that she told him. But it’s enough for him to ask her one night if she loves him. Richard Gere asks Lane in such a way that your heart goes out to his character. He’s done nothing wrong while she’s off having an affair with another man.

Lyne orchestrates another fascinating montage that juxtaposes Connie spending time with Edward and her son at their home with her spending time with Paul in the city. She has fun with both men but in different ways. With Edward, she feels safe and secure in domesticity, and with Paul, she feels excited and passionate. Ultimately, she is looking for someone who can make her feel both safe and passionate. Connie’s affair emboldens her to take unnecessary risks, like kissing Paul in a public place and, by chance, one of the men (Chad Lowe) that works with her husband sees them.

As he demonstrated in both 9½ Weeks and Indecent Proposal, Lyne really knows how to photograph women and bring out their beauty. Unfaithful is no different as he does an incredible job of conveying Lane’s beauty, both naked (the scene where she takes a bath) and clothed (she can even make wearing a t-shirt and jeans look sexy). It is the way he lights her and the angles he uses that bring out her natural good looks. Lane has never looked or acted so well.

When Edward suspects that Connie isn’t being truthful with him yet again, he checks up on her excuse and finds out that she lied to him. To add further risk, when she’s in the city to meet Paul for another tryst, Connie runs into a friend of hers with a co-worker. Unable to ditch them, they all go out to lunch. Connie calls Paul and tells him what happened and he shows up. On the spur of the moment, they have sex in a bathroom stall. Lyne shows a playful side during this scene as he cuts between Paul and Connie’s brief but passionate bout of sex and Connie’s friend talking to her co-worker about how good Connie looks, which is rather obvious. As Edward’s suspicions grow, he decides to have Connie followed and what he finds out and how he acts on it, changes the entire complexion of the story and the film.

The longer the affair goes on, the more selfish Connie becomes and she loses sight of what’s important to her – Edward and Charlie. She has become addicted to her rendezvous with Paul as he consumes her thoughts to the point where she even gets jealous when she spots him with another woman. Connie becomes more desperate and her behavior more erratic as the affair continues.

Richard Gere has the thankless role of playing the spurned husband and he does a good job of eliciting sympathy early on. Edward may not be has handsome as Paul but, c’mon, it’s Richard Gere! The man has aged incredibly well and looks handsome no matter how many frumpy sweaters Lyne tries to put him in. Gere’s finest moment in Unfaithful is when his character confronts Paul. Edward starts off angry but Gere doesn’t chew up the scenery – it’s a slow burn as Edward questions Paul and then he gradually becomes unglued. Gere has to convey a wide spectrum of emotions in this scene and does so quite expertly. From that scene on, his character undergoes a very profound change and it is interesting to see how Gere plays it out.

After years of playing heroic roles in films like Judge Dredd (1995), Lane began to seek out projects that gave her the chance to play more flawed characters. In many respects, A Walk on the Moon was a warm-up for her role in Unfaithful. In that film, she played a 1960s housewife who gets caught up in the sexual revolution of the era and cheats on her husband with a good-looking traveling clothes salesman. Whereas her character’s motivation was clearer in that one, it is more ambiguous in Unfaithful. In fact, Lyne cast Lane based on her work in A Walk on the Moon in which he found her to be “very sympathetic and vulnerable.”

During the production, Lyne fought with 20th Century Fox over the source of the affair. Executives felt that there needed to be a reason while the director believed that chance played a large role. Early drafts of the screenplay featured the Sumners with a dysfunctional sexual relationship and the studio wanted them to have a bad marriage with no sex so there would be more sympathy for Connie. Lyne and Gere disagreed and the director had the script rewritten so that the Sumners basically had a good marriage. He said, “The whole point of the movie was the arbitrary nature of infidelity, the fact that you could be the happiest person on Earth and meet somebody over there, and suddenly your life’s changed.”

When it came time to assemble the crew for this film, Lyne asked director of photography Peter Biziou, with whom he had made 9½ Weeks, to shoot Unfaithful. After reading the screenplay, Biziou felt that the story lent itself to the classic 1.85:1 aspect ratio because there was often “two characters working together in frame.” During pre-production, Biziou, Lyne and production designer Brian Morris used a collection of still photographs as style references. These included photos from fashion magazines and shots by prominent photographers.

Initially, the story was set against snowy exteriors but this idea was rejected early on and the film was shot from March 22 to June 1, 2001 with Lyne shooting in sequence whenever possible. Much of the film was shot in Greenwich Village and Lyne ended up incorporating the city’s unpredictable weather. During the windstorm sequence where Connie first meets Paul, it rained and Lyne used the overcast weather conditions for the street scenes.

Lyne also preferred shooting in practical interiors on location so that, according to Biziou, the actors “feel an intimate sense of belonging at locations,” and use natural light as much as possible. A full four weeks of the schedule was dedicated to the scenes in Paul’s loft which was located on the third floor of a six-story building. Biziou often used two cameras for the film’s intimate sex scenes so as to spare the actors as little discomfort as possible. For example, Olivier Martinez wasn’t comfortable with doing nudity. So, to get him and Lane in the proper frame of mind for the sex scenes, Lyne showed them clips from Five Easy Pieces (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1972), and Fatal Attraction (1987). The two actors hadn’t met before filming and didn’t get to know each other well during the shoot, a calculated move on Lyne’s part so that their off-camera relationship mirrored the one of their characters.

Lyne tested his cast and crew’s endurance by using smoke in certain scenes to enhance the atmosphere. According to Biziou, “the texture it gives helps differentiate and separate various density levels of darkness farther back in frame.” Lyne used this technique on all of his films; however, on a set where cast and crew were filming 18-20 hour days, it got to be a bit much. Gere remembered, “Our throats were being blown out. We had a special doctor who was there almost all the time who was shooting people up with antibiotics for bronchial infections.” Lane even used an oxygen bottle for doses of fresh air between takes.

The last 25 minutes of Unfaithful slides dangerously into formulaic thriller territory, threatening to derail what had been up to that point an engrossing drama about an illicit affair. Why did Lyne feel the need to go in this direction? Did the studio influence his decision and mandate that he incorporate more commercial elements? Lane and Gere do their best to keep things on track and it’s a credit to their abilities that they keep us interested in what is happening to their characters as they transcend the material. In some respects, Unfaithful is a horror film for married couples or for people in some kind of long-term relationship as it shows the ramifications of cheating on one’s spouse. The tragic thing is that all of this could have been avoided if Connie and Edward just talked to each other openly and honestly about how they felt about things. After all, communication is the key to a successful marriage or any meaningful relationship. As Unfaithful shows, lies only complicate things and drive people apart. It’s a harsh lesson that Connie and Edward learn the hard way.

The Cotton Club: A Review by Nate Hill

image

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club is every bit as dazzling, chaotic and decadent as one might imagine the roaring twenties would have been. it’s set in and revolves around the titular jazz club, conducting a boisterous, kaleidoscope study of the various dames, dapper gents, hoodlums, harlots and musicians who called it home. Among them are would be gangster Dixie Dwyer (a slick Richard Gere), Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines), a young Bumpy Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) and renowned psychopathic mobster Dutch Schultz (a ferocious James Remar). Coppola wisely ducks a routine plot line in favor of a helter skelter, raucous cascade of delirious partying, violence and steamy romance, a stylistic choice almost reminiscent of Robert Altman. Characters come and go, fight and feud, drink and dance and generally keep up the kind of manic  energy and pizazz that only the 20’s could sustain. The cast is positively stacked, so watch for appearances from Nicolas Case, Bob Hoskins, Diane Lane, John P. Ryan, James Russo, Fred Gwynne, Allen Garfield, Ed O Ross, Diane Venora, Woody Strode, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Cobbs, Sofia Coppola and singer Tom Waits as Irving Stark, the club’s owner. It’s a messily woven tapestry of crime and excess held together by brief encounters, hot blooded conflict and that ever present jazz music which fuels the characters along with the perpetual haze of booze and cigarette smoke. Good times.