Tag Archives: robert prosky

Mrs. Doubtfire

Ever watch Mrs. Doubtfire lately? Some 90’s films haven’t aged all that well in the years since, but if anything this one has improved, and endured as a sterling classic. What was it about Robin Williams that made him such a dynamic, magnetic and beloved artist? The list is long but for me it was his uncanny, intuitive ability to feel his way around a scene using both dramatic tenderness and that wildly energetic comedic mania that was his trademark. There’s this childlike earnestness when he’s expressing himself in a serious or sorrowful scene that is so damn genuine, and the unbridled mayhem in comic sequences interplays in a delicate balancing act that no one has ever replicated.

Here as voiceover actor and loving father Daniel Hillard he proves that he’ll go to any lengths for his three children (Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence and Mara ‘Matilda’ Wilson) including elaborately disguising himself as a late middle aged British nanny just so he can spend more time with them. This is thanks to his makeup whiz of a brother (The lovable Harvey Fierstein) and ends up fooling everyone including the kids, his ex wife (Sally Field) and even her swanky new suitor (Pierce Brosnan, clearly having fun). The thing is, in the hands of almost any other actor this would be some creepy ass shit. I’ve even seen some spoof trailers on YouTube that recut this to look like a horror flick. But Williams was so talented and put his heart into it to the point that the concept just sells, and feels real despite being completely nuts on paper.

There’s two scenes that sort of cement both his character here and the kind of magic he was capable of on camera as an actor.

In a drab divorce hearing he pleads with the stone faced judge to let him have equal custody, lamenting that he can’t exist without being near his children and the emotion clouding his face feels immediate and organic. Later he has to rapidly switch in and out between the Mrs. Doubtfire disguise to fool a cantankerous social worker (Ann Haney) into believing he’s got his shot together. It involves slam dunking his face into a cake to mask the fact that he accidentally whipped his real mask out the window, and it’s absolutely hilariously inspired work that really illustrates his gift for delirious comedy. He had a long and varied career in film, but this has to be one of the showcase ventures. Aside from his work there’s a breezy, laidback San Francisco vibe and lovely work from a supporting cast including Polly Holiday, Rick Overton, Paul Guillfoye, William Newman and jolly old Robert Prosky as a scotch swilling network TV kingpin.

There’s also a surprising maturity in a narrative that could have easily patronized and pandered to the younger audience. There are core lessons to be learned that are never preached but written in seamlessly and the ending doesn’t cop out or cave in like many films would and do, but remains steadfastly rooted in this bittersweet situation, feeling all the more genuine for it. Williams is the rock, heart and soul of it but it’s a classic all across the board.

-Nate Hill

John McTiernan’s Last Action Hero

I feel like John Mctiernan’s Last Action Hero doesn’t get enough love. I mean, people like it and it has a lasting legacy.. but there’s a weird lukewarm reception among critics, and I’ve always found it to be one of the most gloriously meta, excitingly enjoyable Arnold Schwarzenegger films out there. A young boy (Austin O Brien) spends his days glued to the seats of a creaky old movie theatre (many of us can relate) run by a mysterious projectionist (Robert Prosky), who gives him a magical ticket that brings all kinds of cinematic archetypes and characters to wild, screaming life including badass action hero Jack Slater (Arnie). It’s basically like a trip into the Hollywood version of those Where’s Waldo illustrations that are just packed to the brim with colour, life and incidence, and in this case joyously wall to wall film references, cameos, in jokes and self referential bliss. The villains are wonderfully tongue in cheek including Charles Dance’s cranky assassin Benedict, Anthony Quinn’s moronic Sicilian mobster Tony Vivaldi and Tom Noonan in a vicious, memorable turn as The Ripper, an axe wielding psycho who escapes the land of film and attacks the actual Tom Noonan in real life, also played by Tom Noonan. See how much fun this thing sounds? It’s a fucking blast for anyone who is a fan of the action genre, reality smashing fantasy, wowza production design or simply cinema itself. Arnold has so much fun with the role, bringing the best aspects of T-101, John Matrix, Harry Tasker and Dutch, throwing them into a blender of a performance that’s just silly enough and just tough enough to win us over. There are so many cameos I couldn’t even list them all here without busting a few algorithms, but my favourites have to be Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone, very briefly), the liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and Ian McKellen as Death, who stalks right out of an old black and white picture when the shit really hits the projection reel and the worlds of cinema blur into the edges of reality. It may not be coherent much of the time or employ rigidity in the narrative, but with a film this eclectic, I’d rather have no guardrails along the road it furiously careens down and have elements spill over, crash and tumble as McTiernan uses everything in his bag of tricks to both send up the genres and express his love for them. One of my absolute favourites, a cauldron of mischievous celluloid gold, I feel lucky for the fact that it was even made every time I revisit.

-Nate Hill

Hoping for resurrection: Michael Mann’s The Keep

It’s a shame that Michael Mann feels the way he does about The Keep, and although I can’t really blame him after the Leatherface worthy hack job the studio inflicted on his original three plus hour cut, it’s a heartbreak and a half that we may never see a director’s version because what is left is still one of the most haunting, beautifully done Lovecraftian horror fever dreams one can find in VHS-land. Based on a brilliant novel by F. Paul Wilson, Mann employs a legion of smoke machines, a troupe of eclectic character actors all cast against type and giving marvellous work, and a drop dead gorgeous original score from Tangerine Dream that remains in my top OST’s to this day. Somewhere deep in the Romanian mountains, a squadron of German soldiers led by weary Captain Woerman (Jurgen Pröchnow) comes a across a tiny hidden village that harbours a dark secret: just beyond the township is a looming, mysterious structure built to keep something locked inside, and has lain dormant for centuries. Their gravest mistake is setting up camp in this unholy basilica, for soon they’ve awoken whatever resides within, and it really wants out. Cue the arrival of sadistic SS officer Kaempffer (a very young Gabriel Byrne) and his Nazi bastard crew, as well as a professor of ancient languages (Ian Mckellan) with his daughter (the late Alberta Watson). Elsewhere in Europe, otherworldly stranger Glaecken (the great Scott Glenn) is stirred by the happenings at the Keep and treks across the war torn continent towards an unknown end. What follows is an entrancing supernatural fusion mixup of old school prosthetic effects, genocide metaphors, lovingly creaky production design and synth music that will scorch your soul. Glenn plays the shadowy warrior better than ever here, with a paranormal gleam in his eyes and the stone-faced, gravel voiced resolve to see his strange quest through to a brutal conclusion. McKellen emotes fiercely both in and out of some well done old age makeup, sometimes almost unrecognizable but always spirited and present. Pröchnow rarely gets non villain roles with depth but this might be his best ever, early in his career too. He turns the Captain into a sorrowful picture of regret and compassion that one doesn’t often see in Hollywood based German army roles from WWII. Watson is a doe eyed beauty whose loss of innocence and discovery of love is portrayed wonderfully by the actress, who sadly passed away long before her time. Byrne is evil incarnate, with a startling cropped haircut that would be right at home in this day and age it seems. Mann favourite Robert Prosky also shows up as a local priest with knowledge of The Keep. Somewhere out there in someone’s garage there lies a full cut of this film, just waiting for an extended Blu Ray transfer, complete with tweaks on sound design (its fuzzy commotion at times), special features and the redemptive treatment that a sterling genre addition like this deserves. There’s so much quality to be found in it, from the alluring atmosphere that’s so thick it finds its way into your dreams after, to the aforementioned Tangerine Dream soundtrack that haunts the film’s visual landscape like an auditory phantasm to the silver and purple hued neon production design, resplendent in its tactile, tangible glory, it stands as a flawed classic with the potential to be so much more, if Mann mans up and makes the effort to give one of his very best efforts that care and time it deserves to rise from the void and soar again. If only. Oh and one more thing: there’s one more scene before the credits that isn’t in the actual cut, but go find it on YouTube because it’s really worth it and adds a lot to the story.

-Nate Hill

Eye See You 


You know those films that you just seem to get fixated on and love for no particular reason, like they’re not even that good, you just… really like them? That’s Eye See You for me (known as D-Tox to all you folks across the pond), a heavy handed snowbound horror vehicle for a sedated Sylvester Stallone. It’s silly to the max, thoroughly implausible and perforated with cliches, but for whatever reason I just can’t get over the damn thing. Now, I admittedly have an affinity for the Agatha Christie style murder mysteries, especially ones set in the snow (cue fond memories of Hateful 8 and The Thing), and this one piles on a blizzard of red herrings, multiple shady characters, extremely graphic violence and paranoid unease. Maybe it’s that cast, a platoon of tough guy characters actors backing Sly up in one serious roster of a supporting cast. Old Rocky plays a big city FBI agent who is trying to find a jarringly vicious serial killer that targets law enforcement and has that classic obsession with his pursuer. After his girlfriend (Dina Meyer) falls victim to this beast, Sly unravels and following a suicide attempt, is sent up north by his mentor (Charles S. Dutton) for a little R&R,

and both R’s in that stand for rehab in a special remote facility designed just for cops with issues to work out. The place is run by Krusty Kris Kristofferson, and home to so many recognizable faces one has to give the casting director a tip of the fedora. A disgraced Mountie (Robert Prosky), emotionally fragile ex SWAT commander (Sean Patrick Flanery),

former Scotland Yard (Christopher Fulford), hostile ex narc (Jeffrey Wright with some pretty Harvey Dent facial scars), an insufferable macho asshole (Robert Patrick), ex military (Tom Berenger) who serves as caretaker, sympathetic therapist (Polly Walker) and a seriously creepy Stephen Lang. That’s a whole lot of suspicious characters to pick a killer from, because (you guessed it) the meanie has followed Sly out to the mountains and is posing as a member of their group. It’s a guessing game right up until one severely bloody climax, with ex cops dropping dead all over the place along the way, and Stallone looking more hollow and dishevelled as each body turns up. He’s not in action mode here at all, hell, he’s not even in sorta kinda Cop Land action mode, he’s a broken man trying to heal who’s forced back into shit kicking, and it puts a visible strain on him that the actor handles surprisingly adeptly. The rest do their job terrifically, with Flanery standing out in the scant but affecting screen time he’s given, and Patrick blustering through every scene until you’re just praying for the killer to target him next. There’s downsides galore, mind you, this isn’t well thought out territory, it’s gory genre nirvana and not much else. There’s a level of predictability that could have been avoided by making the identity of the killer a bit less… obvious, for lack of a non spoiling term, but oh well. It’s also just overblown lurid potboiler madness, but what else do you expect from this type of thing? I get exactly what I want out of it: a nice helping of ultra-violent intrigue to tune into on a cozy night, and not much more. In fact, I think I feel a revisit happening this week.

-Nate Hill

Episode 28: Michael Mann’s THIEF with Special Guest FRANCINE SANDERS

FRANCINE POWERCAST

We covered Michael Mann’s 1981 neo noir Chicago crime film, THIEF, that starred James Caan, Tuesday Weld, James Belushi, Dennis Farina, and Willie Nelson.  We’re joined with Frank’s former film professor, Francine Sanders, who teaches classes at Columbia College of Chicago.  Frank took her Studies of the Films of the 1970’s.  Francine teaches film courses at Oakton Community College’s Emeritus Program, and has served on the faculty of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy and Roosevelt University.  Not only is she a published and awarded writer, but she worked for the Chicago Police Department for eight and half years as a civilian investigator for the Office of Professional Standards and helped uncover police torture and corruption under Chicago Police Department’s former Cmdr. Jon Burge.  Francine is a key component for Frank’s love of film, and there wouldn’t be a Podcasting Them Softy (at least from Frank’s end) without her!

Michael Mann’s Thief: A Review by Nate Hill

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With Thief, Michael Mann distilled his crime film style into an archetypal, haunting aura that would go on to influence not only his excellent later work, but other filmmakers as well, everything from Refn’s Drive to the police procedural we see on television today. A style that consists of kaleidoscope neon reflections in rain slicked streets, Chrome cars bulleting through restless urban nocturnes and a lyrical, pulsating score, here provided by underrated German electronic maestros Tangerine Dream, who would go on to provide their dulcet tones for Mann’s phenomenal 1983 The Keep. Thief weaves the age old tale of a master safe cracker(James Caan in a beautifully understated performance) the high stakes at risk of him performing one last job to escape, with said stakes represented as his angelic wife (Tuesday Weld) and newborn son. Robert Prosky in his film debut is a serpentine wonder as Leo, Caan’s boss, whose chilling metamorphosis from paternal employer to domineering monster is a joy to watch. The jewel heist scenes are shot with a researched, assured and authentic feel, spurred on by Tangerine Dreams cosmic rhythms and are especially dynamic points of the film. Thief, for me, belongs that special subcategory of Mann’s career along with Heat, Miami Vice and Collateral, (Public Enemies doesn’t get to come in this elite cinematic treehouse club, it didn’t do anything for me) that are very special crime films. They possess an intangible, ethereal quality of colour, metal, music, and shady people moving about a thrumming urban dreamscape, professionals at what they do, cogs in the ticking clock of crime that inexorably drives toward the narrative outcome, be it bitter confrontation and violence (of which Thief has an absolute gorgeous, poetic revenge sequence) or cathartic resolution (like the conventionally satisfying way Collateral ends). Mann has captured neon lightning in a bottle with Thief, and against the odds of people saying you can’t catch lightning twice, he has spark plugged a good portion of his career with that same lightning, creating an artistic aesthetic all his own. To me that is the ultimate outcome of filmmaking, and art as a medium.