Tag Archives: robert zemeckis

It’s hard to know who to trust, isn’t it, Jack? : Remembering Cocoon with Tom Benedek by Kent Hill

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What’s strange is, for the longest time, I had only ever seen the final scenes of Cocoon. A sea covered in mist, a young boy in the water, a boat loaded with elderly people being chased. Then the sky above lights up. The clouds part majestically as James Horner takes over and the ship ascends into a gigantic spacecraft. Wow, I thought. Cool. Have to see that rest of that! It would be a few days later, but, at last, the whole story was mine to experience.

To talk about films like Cocoon, you need to go back to a different age in cinema. Before most of the popular films were adaptations of characters from the funny papers and franchises and cinematic universes were lined up, as far as the eye can see. It was a time of great risk and invention. When a person with a great idea was king, and the power of Hollywood could make such visions sing.

The era of high concept brought us many of the enduring classics which now appear, in many ways, to be timeless. A young Ron Howard would helm the picture, taking control after another icon of the times, Robert Zemeckis, decided to go off and romance a stone, before heading back in time. Howard had already delivered a fascinating modern day fairy-tale with his magical, romantic, comedy-adventure, Splash. In hindsight this was a fortuitous match, one which would propel Howard’s career to new heights, eventually seeing him become the ideal fit for another 80’s fantasy masterpiece, Willow.cocoon-54a0436aebccd

The men who had produced JAWS, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, brought together a group of impeccable professionals to join Howard behind the camera – at the same time they assembled an extraordinary group of acclaimed Hollywood veterans, cast to fill out the leading roles of the members of a retirement community on the verge of a close encounter of the third kind. Wilford Brimely, Hume Cronyn, Don Ameche, Jack Gilford, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton, together with brilliant performances by Brian Dennehy, Steve Guttenberg, Barret Oliver and Tahnee Welch are our guides through a story about youth, and how we find things in life that allow us to hold on to that vital part of our spirit – so that we may live richly, even as the years decline.

This phrase has become a cliché with me, but long have I waited to chat with someone connected with this movie – one of the fantastical cinematic staples of my youth. My guest Tom Benedek was the man tasked with taking an unpublished novel and turning it into a story for us all. A story of how sometimes it takes a stranger to show us what those we share our lives with fail to point out, a story about the wondrous mysteries and possibilities that dance in the sky so full of stars above our heads, and a story about our grandparents and the lessons, indeed the wisdom they try to send us . . . and how when their time comes, how hard it is to let them go.

So, as it has happened so many times for me while writing for PTS, my dreams have come true. I now have a glimpse, and not a mere EPK look behind the scenes. I have my story of the creation of a science fiction and fantasy film-making high water mark, from the man who brought it to life on the humble script page.

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Robert Zemeckis’s Contact

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact is a periodically good film that suffers from over-length, clutter and sideshow syndrome, as in it doesn’t trust itself to stick to the effective core story without throwing in all sorts of other hoo-hah just for for the sheer hell of it. At two and a half hours it feels more stretched than Bilbo did before leaving the Shire, and would have been way better off slicing out a good half hour to streamline. What does work is really captivating though, especially a fantastic Jodie Foster in a performance of striking determination as a woman who never loses the sense of wonder she had as a child, and strives to make contact with anyone that may be out there in the vast universe. Of course her efforts meet budget cuts, skepticism and sneers from the government and fellow colleagues like Tom Skeritt’s prestigious researcher, a sadly one note character whose allegiance turns on a dime when she actually receives a message from a faraway galaxy. Speaking of one note characters, get a load of chest puffing James Woods as an obnoxious NSA prick with all the depth a kitchen sink has to offer. John Hurt fares better as an eccentric billionaire who offers Foster funding and support, as does always terrific David Morse as her father. Matthew McConaughey is sorely miscast as a spiritual man and love interest, William Fichtner is excellent as her loyal colleague and friend, Jena Malone great as nine year old Jodie Foster, while Jake Busey, Angela Bassett and a whole armada of unnecessary tabloid celebrity cameos show up too, leading right up to Bill Clinton, who I’m convinced is an alien himself. The thing is, so much of the film is just commotion and nonsense, geared towards wowing audiences instead of trusting the fact that they’ll be at ease with just Foster’s story, which is the connective tissue. The elaborate and drawn construction of a machine based on alien blueprints, pesky religious extremists, theological fanfare that falls flat and incessant faux tv newsreel footage that buzzes around like unwanted house flies and kills the atmosphere, there’s too much in the way. My favourite scene of the film takes place somewhere deep in the universe Foster has travelled to through a wormhole, in which a mysterious being tells her that “human beings are capable of such beautiful dreams, and such terrible nightmares”, a sentiment that parts the clouds and gives the story clarity, as does her arc, relationship with her father and desire to know what’s out there, who we are as a race and where we came from, and it’s in that wonder that the film finds its strength. Much of the rest is just lame earthbound noise.

-Nate Hill

The STUNTWOMAN: An Interview with Cheryl Wheeler by Kent Hill

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It was an absolute thrill to sit and chat with Cheryl Wheeler, legendary stunt woman, stunt double, and stunt driver of the movie industry. She has been the stunt double for Rene Russo, Kathleen Turner, and Goldie Hawn.

Cheryl began studying Yoshukai Karate at 15 – coming from a family of mostly boys; she was forced to learn to hold her own. She started kickboxing when her instructor commenced training an amateur team. She has also studied Judo, Aikido, and grappling and trained for a while with kickboxer and actor Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, and is a three-time WKA World Kickboxing Champion

Beginning work in the film industry in 1987, Cheryl’s extensive filmography of stunt work in such films as Back to the Future Part II, Bird on a Wire, Die Hard 2, Lethal Weapon III & IV, Demolition Man, The Thomas Crown Affair and Charlie’s Angels. She was inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame as 1996 Woman of the Year. She appeared on the cover and in a feature article in Black Belt Magazine in July 1997, and also received a Stunt Award for “Best Stunt Sequence” in the 2000 film of Charlie’s Angels.

I could honestly have spoken to Cheryl for hours – slowly traversing and delighting in the stories from all of the films she has participated in. We also chat about her involvement in The Martial Arts Kid 2 which she comes to as a producer with her long-time friends Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.

It was a true pleasure, and I trust you will enjoy this fascinating interview with an awesome Hollywood veteran. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Cheryl Wheeler.

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Robert Zemeckis’s Flight: A Review by Nate Hill 

When I saw the marketing and trailer hype for Robert Zemeckis’s Flight, I was strongly under the impression that when I got around to seeing it I’d get a conspiracy style thriller. Some aviation intrigue, maybe a little government corruption, valiantly unveiled by Denzel Washington’s hotshot pilot protagonist. How very wrong I was. To my credit, it wasn’t my fault, but that of the severely misleading marketing. But then, how do you market a film like this? Hell, it’s a wonder it even made it past the pitching stage! The airplane related fiasco one sees in the previews is but a tiny segment that acts as at catalyst for one of the most searing and honest portraits of addiction I’ve ever seen. Washington is Whip Whittaker, senior pilot, ladies man, assured professional and severe drug and alcohol user. Whip snorts and guzzles day and night, including during the job. He’s functional and hides it well, but thats just another facet of his problem. When an onboard malfunction causes crisis on one of his flights, he takes a giant leap of faith, spectacularly landing the airplane upside down and essentially saving every passenger’s life. End of story? Not really. From there the film throws a curveball, as we dig deeper into Whip’s life, habits and history. An inquiry is launched into his mental state during the event, led by a stern and silky voiced Melissa Leo. His superiors do everything to defend him, but it becomes clear that he has been coming apart at the seams for sometime now, and the incident was one of the final rips. It’s a journey into one man’s refusal to admit his problems, and the often extreme ways in which life holds up a mirror in front of us and demands acceptance. Kelly Reilly is superb as a damaged girl he meets who tries to take his hand and lead down the way to fixing what is broken, but he’s pretty damn far off the path. John Goodman is his charismatic self as Whip’s groovy drug dealer, and Bruce Greenwood reliably steals scenes as an airline official determind to defend Whip to the bitter end. Washington is heartbreaking, especially in the scenes of alcohol abuse, which are tough to watch. He’s never had a character arc quite like this, and it’s one of the most special, vital gifts of acting he has ever given us. The look, feel and tone of the film is anything but gritty or depressing. It has a glossy, aesthetic sheen to it that barely hints at the commotion and strife which befalls it’s lead character. Perhaps this was Zemeckis’s intention: dazzle us out of the gate with crisp frames and bright cinematography and then blindside us with the darker elements, showing us in the process that such issues can befall any one of us in society, no matter how outwardly successful, confident or in control we seem. The film is as complex as it’s protagonist and begs the audience to empathize with him on his journey, despite the glaring shortcomings we observe. It’s one of the most human stories I’ve ever seen; two hours spent with a realistic person who is assured, broken, confused, scared, stubborn, strong willed, weak and deeply wounded all at the same time. Washington paints the picture for us momentously, and it’s the best work he’s ever done. You don’t get too many films like this released by the studio system, and this one is some kind of miracle.  

Cast Away: A Review By Nate Hill

  
Up until two days ago, I had never seen Cast Away. Not once in my life. I know, try not to have a heart attack. I knew the whole story, each and every beloved plot twist mapped out for me by eager friends, word of mouth, online fare and pop culture over the years. I just never sat down and actually watched the darned thing. Well I did two nights ago, and damn if I didn’t wish I’d done that sooner. It’s every bit as incredible as I’ve heard all this time, and more so. It’s one thing to know everything about a film just because of its notoriety, and quite another to see it, obviously. I experienced every scene, every landmark event in the film for the first time ever, and my foreknowledge of it did not dampen one wondrous second of the experience. Few films bring you as close to their protagonist as this does, for two and a half patient, spellbinding hours in the life of a man whose path has taken a turn for the extraordinary. Tom Hanks is the right guy for the job, and then some. He’s immediately likeable and exudes currents of good nature and humility. Perfect casting choice. He plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx honcho with a busy life that scarcely makes room for his doting girlfriend (Helen Hunt). One Christmas eve, he’s forced to run out on her for an overnight package flight. As we all know, his plane crashes somewhere in the South Pacific, and he’s forced to survive on a deserted island for almost half a decade. We feel every empty minute, every momentous triumph right alongside Chuck, from the first dazed stroll along the wave speckled beach of his new home, to the final, raging ditch effort to find his way back to civilization. Director Robert Zemeckis let’s this larger than life tale unfold with steady, earnest shots and a down to earth score, a very simplistic approach that let’s Hanks do most of the heavy lifting. And lift he does, in a performance of sheer courage and transformative qualities. We see Chuck go from suburban joe and real world businessman to a near feral being, forged into something more than himself by the same forces that govern and mold the geography which he now inhabits, while never losing his humanity in the wild chaos. The time spent stranded is sandwiched between two segments that bookend the film, in which we see his life in civilization before, and eventually after his experience. The impeccable pacing tricks the audience into feeling like we’ve been watching this play out for as many years as he’s been living it. I mean this as a profound compliment to the filmmakers and not to say the film ever drags, in fact, for a two plus hour running time it feels surprisinly slight. It all rests on Hank’s shoulders, and he carries it beautifully, selling this man’s plight with truth, humour and resilience. An experience for the ages, and one that you should see right out of the gate in your cinematic exploration, as opposed to waiting till your mid twenties like someone we know. Masterpiece.