Tag Archives: Roger Corman

Revisiting Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs on the big screen

I got the chance to see The Silence Of The Lambs on the big screen last night and was very curious to see if it held up as I had only seen it once before, when I was like fifteen and on VHS no less. Well. This has to be one of the most airtight, hair raising, gorgeously produced psychological horror shows ever made and it really, *really* pops in a darkened theatre. I remembered bits and pieces, some of the iconic interplay between Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling as well as all the freaky pervo stuff with Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill and had retained the general atmosphere. I *knew* I loved this film already but getting to see it in that environment of the theatre with focused, uninterrupted absorption really reminded me not only of what a masterpiece this is but also why it’s important to see films theatrically to begin with.

From the moment we see Clarice running through those misty Quantico woods to that final extended shot of Lecter strolling down that street in the Bahamas this is fluid, brilliantly edited, first rate storytelling and the one aspect that stands out most to me is the way the characters relate to each other psychologically. Scott Glenn’s Jack Crawford handpicks Clarice in this assignment for a reason. Hannibal takes an immediate and intimate interest in her for a reason. Clarice toughs out the terrifying aspects of this case and taps into her own vulnerability for a *reason.* We the audience are never told exactly what these reasons are but they’re clearly spelled out in each mannerism, each glance, each performance, there for us to find and digest each in our own way. There’s a reason this film crushed the Oscars, the acting awards in particular. Hopkins lingers over every scene like a cobra, his voice that of an icy river and the horribly calibrated intellect behind it scarier still. Foster shows the wounded orphan in Clarice, toughened up by years of hardship and her training at the academy, all her innermost qualities brought out by Lecter’s presence in a relationship that’s hard to classify. “The worlds more interesting with you in it” he assures her later in the film and we silently beg to know what’s going on in his head. Levine is every bit as scary as we remember, finding the human notes in this egregious monster and making him one of the most iconic serial killers in cinema. Glenn is buttoned down and unassuming as Crawford but we slowly see from his acting that it’s a ruse and he’s as sharp as any of them under that well kept veneer. The rest of the cast are carefully picked and include the likes of Kasi Lemmons, Charles Napier, Tracey Walter, Daniel Von Bargen, Anthony Heald, Frankie Faison, Brooke Smith, Diane Baker, Roger Corman, George A. Romero and Chris Isaak all doing great work.

One sequence in particular demonstrates how well this film holds up and why it should be seen on a big screen, and it’s where Lecter escapes from federal holding, dodging dozens of agents, SWAT operatives and sheriffs along the way. It’s an extended scene full of law enforcement lingo shouted breathlessly, a sneaky elevator roper dope, bloody special effects, desperate mustering of FBI forces to stop him all set to Howard Shore’s exceptionally creepy and exciting score. All that plus Jonathan Demme’s tight, succinct direction make a sequence that just hums along and showcases the film’s firm grip on horror, suspense, police procedural, editing, music and overall storytelling. They don’t get much better than this.

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s BOXCAR BERTHA

BOXCAR BERTHA is not only an aesthetic precursor to Martin Scorsese’s seminal picture, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST but also a thematic one. It is equal parts a love story between the lead, Barbara Hershey, and man, David Carradine but also Scorsese’s most Americana film that encompasses the life of the 1930s through craps games, bank robberies, and our heroes riding the rails.

The film is very low budget and not as polished as those of us who have followed Scorsese’s career are used to. It’s rough and hard, playing less like a Scorsese picture and more like a less tuned version of BADLANDS or some early Malick movie that time forgot; yet the film plays more like an exploitation than something whimsical.

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In typical Scorsese fashion, he has his core ensemble of actors who would again appear in later works, Hershey, Carradine, Barry Primus, Harry Northrup, and Victor Argo. And naturally, the film features a cameo by Scorsese himself. Bernie Casey is also featured in an excellent turn, who brutishly rounds out the gang.

In the film’s less than ninety minute runtime, a lot of ground gets covered, and the plot devices and the pacing is slightly out of sync but works towards the film’s advantage. Through it’s exploration of sex and violence, this was the first “studio” film where Scorsese honed his skills as one of cinema’s most important auteurs.

Hershey gives a marvelous performance as a young woman who accidentally gets ensnared in a fight between the railroad and its workers, becoming the eye of Carradine’s storm. Big Bill Shelley is his name, and busting up the railroad is his game. Carradine is such a magnificent bastard in the film, and wonderfully chews each scene he is in. John Carradine, his father, gets a very fun, albeit, brief role as the railroad tycoon determined to bring Big Bill Shelley down. And of course, Scorsese gives us one scene between the two.

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It is not Scorsese’s most important film, nor by any means is the film a masterwork. It plays like a thesis film he’s making as so he can graduate and blossom into the filmmaker he is known for today. It is sexy and dangerous, it is rough around the edges, and has such a grandiose ending; one that is one so striking and powerful, both thematically and practically made, that any serious viewer of film cannot help but absolutely admire how audacious it is.

BOXCAR BERTHA is available on blu ray from Twilight Time and to stream on Amazon Prime.

Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate

If you ditch the idea that Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate is a remake of the 60’s Frank Sinatra flick, you’ll have a much better time watching it without those strings attached (Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is similarly panned by the misguided hordes). Demme’s version is a new adaptation of the novel by Richard Condon, and in my eyes the far superior thriller. Given a charged military twist, deeply disturbing psychological angles and the powerhouse acting juice of leads Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and a staggeringly good Meryl Streep, this is where the buck stops with political thrillers. Demme’s narrative is a thickly laced web of secrets, mind manipulation, lies and corruption that isn’t always apparent or clear, given the unreliable, ruptured psyche of ex gulf war soldier Ben Marco (Washington). He’s shellshocked, but not in the traditional sense, and somehow feels as if something went very, very wrong with his unit following a deadly skirmish in the Middle East. His former fellow soldier and friend Raymond Prentiss Shaw (Schreiber) is up for senate election, fiercely prodded and chaperoned by his mad dog of a mother Eleanor (Streep). Everyone from their unit has either wound up dead or suffering from terrifying nightmares, psychosis and brain trauma they can’t explain. It’s up to Ben to trust his dodgy memories, leading him out of the dark and finding what really happened before a vague impending disaster that is Demme’s fulcrum upon which ample, nerve annihilating suspense is built around. Washington is his usual quietly implosive self and makes unnerving work of getting us to believe he’s in real psychological stress but somehow lucid. Streep is the ultimate mommy from hell, and despite the script getting near maniacal with her arc at times, she always sells it as a rogue extremist who only sees her side of the arena and will do literally anything for her son, no matter what the cost to country, colleagues or even herself. They’re joined by an impressive league of supporting talent including Bruno Ganz, Miguel Ferrer, Ted Levine, the sinister Simon McBurney, Ann Dowd, Charles Napier, José Pablo Castillo, Bill Irwin, Al Franken, Zelijko Ivanek, Roger Corman (!), Obba Babarundé, Jude Ciccolela, Dean Stockwell, Tracey Walter, Sydney Lumet (!!) and more. There’s really terrific work from Jeffrey Wright as another troubled former soldier, Kimberly Elise as a fed tracking Ben’s movements who catches feels for him, Jon Voight as a suspicious rival candidate to Shaw and Vera Farmiga as his daughter. What. A. Cast. This was one of the first R rated films I was ever allowed to see in theatres and as such the chills haven’t quite left my spine every time I go in for a revisit. It almost reaches horror movie levels of fright and nightmarish, half remembered atrocities that taint the senate election like political voodoo and give the proceedings a dark, very uneasy atmosphere. Demme goes for a big scope here with a huge cast, large scale story and high impact set pieces, but at its heart it’s a very tense, inward focused story that shows the sickness in power and just what some people are willing to do to get ahead. Like I said, forget the Sinatra version and watch this as it’s own film, it’s an incredibly special, affecting experience onscreen and you won’t find a freakier political thriller.

-Nate Hill

Anyone you can catch, kill and eat: Remembering No Escape with Michael Gaylin by Kent Hill

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Gale Anne Hurd, the producer of Aliens and The Terminator, headed the charge back in the early 90s toward the adaptation of a book written by Richard Herley titled, The Penal Colony.

Set in 1997, it tells the story of how the British Government runs island prison colonies as a means to stem the tide of an overflow in mainland jails. There are no guards, no cells, and the island is monitored via satellite surveillance.

We follow the  a character named Anthony Routledge, who is brought to the island for a sex-crime that he did not commit. He soon discovers that under the guidance of a charismatic leader, a community on the island has evolved.

Now if that’s not the ideal film to make here in Australia, (if your are aware that it is pretty much how our nation began) then I don’t know what is. The production would hire future Bond director Martin Campbell, along with stars Ray Liotta, Lance Henriksen, Stuart Wilson and Ernie Hudson.

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Then a screenwriter named Michael Gaylin, a man who had slaved away in obscurity in Hollywood for more than a decade, would come into contact with a colleague of Hurd’s. He went for a meeting and, finally, after a career of false starts and forgotten promises, he was going to be writing on a film that would eventually, make it to the big screen.

After a long wait, I finally had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Michael about his career and his experiences during the making of No Escape or Escape from Absolom (as it was released over here). What I discovered, during our conversation, was not merely an insight into a film I heartily enjoy, but also the story of a resilient writer who finally had one script break through. A real life story very much akin to the journey of the hero of the film; who would take on all conflicts and eventually overcome them . . .  and escape.

It is a great film in the grand tradition of Franklin J. Schaffner’s Papillon.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Michael Gaylin.

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Lunch with the Equalizer: A Conversation with Richard Norton by Kent Hill

Richard was a young lad from Melbourne, Australia plagued by asthma who loved martial arts.

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As he grew in skill, he would eventually catch the eye of the legendary Chuck Norris, who extended an invitation to the young Norton to come and train with him. It was while working as a celebrity bodyguard that he finally found his way round to the home of Norris, and from there he was offered a part in The Octagon as the masked ninja, Kyo.

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This would be the first of more than sixty screen appearances for the action film star, stuntman, stunt/fight coordinator/choreographer and martial arts trainer. He has worked on fights for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, joined Suicide Squads, trained Scarlett Johansson  for the Manga turned motion picture Ghost in the Shell. He even braved the heat, dust and high-octane insanity on George Miller’s Fury Road.

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As a respected member of the martial arts community, Norton has remained close friends and has shared the screen with fellow industry luminaries such as Jackie Chan, Don “The Dragon”  Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.

When I spoke with him, Richard was on his way to train the X-Men for another big screen outing, so there is no sign that the humble 67 year old from Melbourne is slowing down.

Richard Norton is a man who remembers well his origins and what it took to climb the mountain of success, upon which he stands, victorious. It was really cool to chat with him. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

So, here he is folks, the ‘real’ action man . . .  Richard Norton.

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ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Hey Ho! Let’s Go! Listen up, kids. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School may have been released way back in 1979 but it still kicks the ass of any of those square MTV movies. Forget about Britney Spears and Mandy Moore’s brand of bubblegum pop music and their equally bland movies – they don’t hold a candle to the unbridled power of those punk rockers from New York City… the Ramones! Making a band the central focus of a film is nothing new. The Beatles did it with A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and The Monkees with Head (1968). Hell, the Spice Girls even did it with Spice World (1997). But to do it with an anti-social punk rock band like the Ramones?! And to have it produced by legendary B-movie mogul Roger Corman?! The results: a cult classic in the proud tradition of juvenile delinquent films of the 1950s.

Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) is the ultimate Ramones fan. She’s introduced gleefully bypassing Vince Lombardi High School’s PA system so that she can blast “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” to the entire school population. The energetic song wakes up the students, shatters glass, and shakes tables and pictures right off the wall. The school erupts into complete anarchy as the student body begins to spontaneous dance to the boisterous rock ‘n’ roll music. How kick ass of an opening sequence is that? It also does a great job of conveying the excitement and energy of the Ramones’ music.

Riff dreams of meeting the Ramones and giving them a song she wrote entitled, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” She tries it out on her gym class causing all the girls in their skimpy gym outfits (ah, Corman and his exploitation tendencies) to dance around in what can only be described as the greatest gym class ever.

Riff even camps out for days to get tickets for the Ramones’ upcoming concert while her best friend, Kate Rambeau (Dey Young) covers for her by telling the nasty, shrewish Principal Togar (Mary Woronov) that various members of Riff’s family have died. Not surprisingly, Togar doesn’t fall for it and takes Riff’s ticket away, forcing the two girls to find another way to meet their heroes. Meanwhile, good girl Kate has a major crush on the school’s quarterback, the bland Tom (Vincent Van Patten), but he has his sights on the dynamic Riff.

The film was originally called Girls Gym, then it was changed to Disco High by Corman, who wanted to capitalize on the disco craze, but was (fortunately) persuaded otherwise by director Allan Arkush. Originally, the filmmakers wanted Devo and then Van Halen before approaching the Ramones. They finally settled on Rock ‘n’ Roll High School after Arkush convinced Corman that the Ramones were the perfect band for the film. To their credit, the Ramones knew that it was the right move. Guitarist Johnny Ramone was a huge fan of Corman’s films and when he heard that the producer was behind the film, he agreed to do it. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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does a great job of playfully championing the Ramones as rock gods and yet shows them being accessible to their fans as well. The band first appears in a car driving down the street on the way to their venue as they play “I Just Wanna Have Something To Do.” Once outside the club, they get out of the car and interact with the crowd of ticket buyers (who were, incidentally, actual Ramones fans). The editing, coupled with the insanely catchy song, gives the scene an infectious energy that is so much fun to watch. Incidentally, Dean Cundey was the film’s cinematographer and he would go on to shoot some of John Carpenter’s best films, including Halloween (1978) and Escape from New York (1981).

From B-movie veterans like Paul (Eating Raoul) Bartel and Mary (Death Race 2000) Woronov to newcomers (at the time), P.J. (Halloween) Soles and Dey (Strange Invaders) Young, the entire cast has a lot of fun spouting the film’s wonderfully inspired cornball dialogue (“If you don’t like it, you can put it where you the monkey puts the nuts,” Riff says defiantly to Togar at one point) courtesy of National Lampoon magazine writers Richard Whitley and Russ Dvonch. I would be remiss without also mentioning the presence of Corman regular Dick Miller (as a cop) and Clint Howard who plays matchmaker for Tom. The Ramones are good sports and mumble their way through the film and truly come alive during the music sequences like the pros that they are. This film rightfully cements their reputation as legends.

Shot in only 15 days (which, when you think about it, is entirely appropriate for this kind of film), Rock ‘n’ Roll High School embodies the essence of the punk rock music that made the Ramones famous. The film is bursting with youthful energy, a dose of good ol’ fashion anarchy, and is loads of fun to watch. These are also the ingredients that made Rock ‘n’ Roll High School a cult film. Corman cannily marketed it as a Midnight Movie in the hopes that the same people who flocked religiously to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) would come to see the Ramones. It was a modest commercial success upon its initial release and actually garnered critical praise – very unusual for a cult film.

While Rock ‘n’ Roll High School will appeal predominantly to fans of the Ramones (duh!), it is also one of those fun, goofy movies to invite friends over and watch with copious amounts of junk food on hand. This film is all about loving music and a particular band unabashedly. Riff gives herself up to the music and this translates into an enthusiastic celebration of the Ramones and the rowdy, rebellious spirit of rock ‘n’ roll music. Repeated midnight screenings, coupled with steady appearances on T.V., have helped the film endure over the years so that is has become a beloved cult classic.