Tag Archives: Samuel L. Jackson

Chasing Tarantino: An Interview with Con Christopoulos by Kent Hill

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What price do you put on a dream? How much do you give, day after lonely day, on the steady climb toward that magical vision that no one else can see . . . but you? The truth is we all started that way. Then you learn that if you dream in one hand and crap in the other – one fills much quicker. The chances you are given dictate some of your rise, while luck, that iconic variable which many still refuse to acknowledge as an important player in their ensemble equaling in triumph, can also see you cross the finish line just as effectively. Being in the right place, at the right time.

Yet, the main forces that drive those with an obsession to see their dreams realized on film are hunger . . . and heart. So, I give to you the story of Con Christopoulos – a man whose relentless courage, determination and passion was at once inspiring, gravitating and above all, infectious. Con’s drive – the sheer pleasure that emotes from his lips while talking about the victories and defeats he has known along the path to unleashing his cinematic voice upon the world is simply staggering. I have seldom met others like myself – those faced with impossible odds and uncertain conditions in the seas before us as our voyage continues – that has exhibited so completely all of the pure exuberance and discipline required to see the journey through to that glorious moment, when the house lights dip, and the screen fills with all you have. The grand total of a life spent loving movies.

I first encountered Con when I saw a Facebook post and a video entitled Chasing Tarantino. I sat and watched in amazement as the man on the clip boldly declared, most convincingly I might add, that he had a truly captivating story and was desperately seeking passage into the halls of power, where the mighty QT might be sitting, idly waiting, for the next big thing. As intrigued as I was curious, I contacted Con and asked to read his opus. It was then he told me that he had pitched the idea to Australian genre-film legend Roger Ward. Ward had apparently warmed to the concept and said if the film ever materialized, he would be on board. After hearing this and reading the material I automatically thought of the great Ozploitation director, Brian Trenchard-Smith. I told Con I would attempt to reach out to Brian with the hopes he might at least have a glance at the treatment and offer some feedback.

To my delight he did just that. He was critical but constructive, as Brian always is, and it does one good to have notes from the masters. You move forward with a new sense of purpose and a rejuvenating feeling coursing through your body, fortified a little more before again breaking camp, trying once more to reach the summit.

It’s hard not be romantic about dreamers. They, after all, are responsible for some for the scintillating, sublime and stupendous visions and stories, music and magic – the stuff that keeps the cycle perpetuating. An inspired individual realizes his dream and shows it to the world. One or more members of the audience are so moved to action, ignited from within, that they then, in turn, devote their lives to such a pursuit.

This is the story of one such dreamer…

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Roger Donaldson’s White Sands

Somewhere out there in the gypsum dunes of New Mexico there’s White Sands, a long lost, slightly unfinished yet captivating neo-noir about small town law enforcement, big time gun runners and everyone else who gets caught up in between. Willem Dafoe is Ray, a bored rural sheriff who sees a way out of the dusty hum drum when an apparent smuggler turns up dead on his watch out there in the national park, prompting him to steal the guy’s identity and dive headlong into the illicit arms business with no real crash course or idea of what he’s doing. A risky move that propels the film down an exciting, sexy, ambient journey of untrustworthy alliances, atmospheric shootouts and a dangerously charming Mickey Rourke as Lennox, the kind of reptilian criminal who’s so good at seducing you into the lifestyle that you don’t realize you’re in the snake pit until it’s almost too late. Dafoe and Rourke have shared the screen aplenty before and while my favourite team up has to be their cartel duo in Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon A Time In Mexico, this film certainly takes second place honours. They just work so well on camera together, a shaky bromance built on Ray’s deception and Lennox’s unpredictable penchant for violence that proves electric as the narrative weaves around them. The always phenomenal Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays an underworld connection who Ray unwisely gets steamy with in probably one of the hottest sex scenes of the 90’s and a complete false advertisement for the success rate of getting it on in the shower. Samuel L. Jackson has a fantastic early career villain role as the kind of corrupt FBI agent in whom it’s very unwise to place trust, and watch for others including the great Maura Tierney, M. Emmett Walsh, James Rebhorn, Beth Grant, Miguel Sandoval, Jack Kehler, Mimi Rogers and a sneaky unbilled double cameo from Fred Dalton Thompson and the inimitable John P. Ryan as slick arms dealers. The setting of White Sands park plays such a role in atmosphere here; the ghostly sight of white sand dunes brings about the thought that something is out of place, rare in nature and the same can be said for Dafoe’s affable sheriff thrown into a mixing pot of big city psychos and genuine menace, a fish out of water shtick that pulls you in the more accustomed to this netherworld the man gets. How about that knockout original score from Patrick O’Hearn too, who only composed for a handful of things since, it’s a hazy, melodic set that suggests both the beauty and danger lurking out there in the Sands, especially in the simmering climax where several characters meet poetically grisly fates. I do have a few minor issues with this film, it could have been at least fifteen minutes longer and rounded out the epilogue with Dafoe’s arc clearer, it almost feels like there’s a missing reel or some editing glitch that marred the final product just a tad, but it doesn’t hurt the film too much overall. This is a lost classic for me, a gorgeously specific film noir with some of my favourite actors giving some of their most fun, playful work, the aforementioned score and some cinematography that won’t quit. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight

If you’re suffering from a deficiency of satisfying action in your action movies (a common ailment these days) then Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight is just the pill. Harlin loves his practical combat scenes, death defying stunt work and blunt, frank violence without frenetic movement or trickery, and what he pulls off here is what the genre should be. Working from a screenplay by Shane Black, the pairing is kind of a delirious match made in heaven for fans of either artistic maverick. All of Black’s favourite motifs run amok here: stingingly funny verbal beatdowns, sharp and culturally aware characters, a Christmas setting, children in extreme danger, you name it. Geena Davis pulls a Jason Bourne as amnesiac schoolteacher and loving mother Samantha Cain, whose violent past comes back to haunt her in several ways when she discovers she’s actually a maladjusted CIA assassin named Charley Baltimore. The bad guys come fast and heavy at her, including perky Craig Bierko as a terrifying yet somehow hilarious sociopathic freak, David Morse as a vengeful former target and lovable Brian Cox as her dodgy ex handler. She’s aided by a fast talking, slightly seedy private investigator played memorably by Samuel L. Jackson, and the whole pack of them prance through this terrifically entertaining spy yarn with enthusiasm and old school Hollywood charm. The action scenes are so brazen and willfully cinematic they’re almost comical, but that’s Harlin and I love the guy to bits, the genre just wouldn’t be the same without him. The very first encounter Sam has with massive thug One Eyed Jack (Joseph McKenna) is showcase material, I’ve never seen a shotgun do to a wall what Renny stages here, but it works in fully charged, high comic book fashion. It’s popcorn bliss, a buddy flick, a mystery, a rollicking black comedy, a great spy flick and a treatise on what action films should be all about. Fucking great stuff. Chefs do that!

-Nate Hill

Joe Roth’s Freedomland j

Freedomland is a dark, strange drama about events spiraling out of control following the disappearance of a young boy, the distraught nature of his mother (Julianne Moore) and the subsequent search that takes two detectives (Samuel L. Jackson and William Forsythe) into a heated black community and the surrounding wilderness nearby. Moore’s character is a notoriously unstable woman and not the most reliable mother, her story just doesn’t seem to add up, especially when she claims she saw a black man take off with her car with her kid in it. Jackson’s charismatic cop knows the community well and does his best to ease mounting racial tension, while Moore is a basket case who can barely function, and the whole thing feels sort of meandering and purgatorial until a third act revelation that puts an entirely new spin on the film but also kind of thematically negates everything that came before. Is is a slightly political interpersonal drama? Somewhat. Is it a twisty abduction thriller? Not really me, but I feel like it wants to be. Is it a character study of a broken woman? Could have been with more development. It’s an odd mix that doesn’t really gel with much that it tries except when it focuses on Moore, who is fascinating damaged goods, but again more time should have been spent cultivating that angle. Jackson is fine in his authoritarian mediator role, normally boisterous Forsythe is pretty laid back as the trusty sidekick, Edie Falco plays a concerned activist looking to help out and Ron Eldard is terrific as Moore’s brother, an emotional firebrand who calls her right out on her ongoing bullshit. This film tries to be more than it ultimately ends up being, if that at all makes sense. Elements are in place for it to be great and some of them do in fact work, but the script needed some tweaks, especially in how the bulk of the film and the conflict there relate to and clash with that twist ending, which needed to be revealed way sooner to set up a moving, provocative final act. Not terrible for the effort that was made.

-Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained really and truly feels like the old school exploitation epics that he was going for in everything from style, music, dialogue and especially pacing. Movies were longer back then in more ways than just length, which sounds odd so I’ll try and explain: Django has a great big laconic violent narrative that takes its time like a talkative houseguest and lingers for a while, until it seemingly ends. Then after that ending, there’s like another forty minutes of movie after, as if somehow with this one we discovered that staying past the credits magically extends the film into further, hidden acts. Seems crazy now but that’s the way some movies were back then. People have said that that feels lopsided and is a downfall for Django, but I disagree and think it gets a lot of it’s charm from that structural padding, no doubt purposeful on QT’s part. It’s also some of the most colourful, flat out ballistic and fun pieces he’s ever done. Post Kill Bill, he really delved into the past for some specific genre stabs at various key time periods, in some cases even rewriting history to meet his pulpy, shock ‘n awe oeuvre. Unchained tells the story of intense self freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx), jovially verbose bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, the soul of the picture), bratty, psychopathic plantation baron Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio refreshingly cast against type), and a whole sweaty myriad of other cowboys, slaves, businessman and opportunists in a very vivid Old West. Django and King aim to free his imprisoned wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from Candieland, a hellish property ruled over by traitorous head house slave Steven (cantankerous Samuel L. Jackson) and hordes of vicious, tumbleweed thugs. To say violence ensues is a big old understatement; the blood flows like Niagara here, the heads get shot off in double digit count and bullets tear through people like they’ve got barbed wire on them. Hyper stylized, yes, but never a case of style over substance, as QT’s scripts always see to. The friendship between King and Django is allowed to percolate like their tin campfire coffee pot long before any serious chaos ensues, these two make a stalwart pair. DiCaprio is a grinning antagonist whose heinous personality is obvious in Waltz’s gradual revulsion, a setup ripe with gleeful, knee slapping suspense. Joining them is an all star supporting cast including James Remar in sly dual roles, James Russo, Zoe Bell, Miriam F. Glover, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, M.C. Gainey, Walton Goggins, Laura Cayouette, Dennis Christopher, Dana Gourrier, Franco Nero, Don Stroud, Bruce Dern, Michael Bowen, Robert Carradine, Jonah Hill, Lee Horsley, Tom Savini, James Parks, QT himself with a horrendous Aussie accent, a Michael Parks cameo and Don Johnson as a hilarious plantation pimp called Big Daddy. The soundtrack samples everything from Rick Ross to Morricone to Johnny Cash to amp up the proceedings, and cinematography traverses rough hewn deserts, snowy peaks and buzzing bayous to provide sharp, succinct atmosphere for this extreme yarn to play out in. QT’s career comes in two halves for me: The hard boiled, present day set gangster flicks that segued into Kill Bill, still set in our times. For the second half he’s gone historical and turned up the dial on violence, characterization, action and colour, and Django can arguably be called the showcase picture in latter day Tarantino. It’s big, bold, audacious,

unapologetic and I love every second of it.

-Nate Hill

John McTiernan’s Basic

John McTiernan’s Basic is a film that commits the cardinal sin of cheating its audience with an obnoxious, horrendous twist ending that it neither earns nor properly makes sense of. It’s a real crying shame too, because the film up until then is a hell of a lot of fun and has a rambunctious John Travolta performance that could shake the cobwebs loose from a barn. When a near mythic drill instructor (a volcanic Samuel L. Jackson) with some terrifying over-the-line tactics disappears along with some of his cadets on a routine training exercise deep in the jungles of Panama, Travolta’s rowdy DEA Agent is called in to investigate. Why a DEA agent, you ask? Well, it being Panama one might assume that any controversy anywhere could be drug related, but the film states that it’s because no one is as skilled at interrogation than him. That proves to be true, as he slowly, cleverly speaks with the remaining trainees and starts to piece together a cluttered version of events from each one. They are played by the reliable likes of Dash Mihok, Taye Diggs, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt and Harry Connick Jr., and as such many of the scenes are quite engaging. It doesn’t hurt that Connie Nielsen is good too as Travolta’s anal retentive, by the book partner. The film oscillates through various scenarios, teasing us with which mystery might be real, and when it comes time to whisk the curtains back and land the pirouette of a reasonable final act… it just… shits itself and completely ruins not only everything that came before, but the entire film, which is really too bad. At first I thought I was just too stoned to get what happened the first time years ago, but I’ve since rewatched it a few more times and… nope. It’s illogical, unwarranted horse shit that doesn’t work any way you spin it. I would have honestly preferred the central mystery to never even get solved over the half assed resolution they cooked up. Roger Ebert pointed out that this film deserves to be in a genre he calls the ‘Jerk Around Movie,’ and I agree. It shamefully wastes the viewer’s time with an ending that’s both insulting to the efforts of the actors who really worked hard here, betrays it’s own narrative to the grave. Bleh.

-Nate Hill

Disney’s Incredibles 2

Incredible really is the word for Brad Bird’s Incredibles 2, a thoughtful, intelligent, hilarious and visually stupendous sequel to Disney Pixar’s first superhero adventure. It was always a curiosity how this was going to do; so many sequels that arrive a decade after their beloved predecessor can feel vague or disjointed by the gulf of time. This one jumps right back into the hot seat like it never left, feeling both new and organic as a continuing story and reminiscent of the first outing’s magic. Literally dropping us right back near the ending we remember where a little mole dude called the Underminer creates new trouble for our heroes, a gigantic bank robbery sequence sets the stage for the film to come as well as the ongoing and and now more complex issues that superheroes face in the eyes of the public and in the favour of the government. The real joy of the film comes from the family dynamic though, particularly between Bob ‘Mr. Incredible’ Parr and the kids. When an influential tycoon (a peppy Bob Odenkirk) and his techie sister (silk voiced Catherine Keener) develop a new promotional program to put supers in the positive spotlight, they recruit Susan ‘Elastagirl’ Parr (Holly Hunter) as their front runner. This pus Bob in the stay at home Dad seat, and in those sequences the film really finds a fresh voice, showcasing some hilarious and poignant sequences. The visual fireworks come full blast as Elastagirl battles a mysterious enemy called the Screenslaver and runs about the city with all kinds of gadgets including a souped up new motorbike. Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone is back too, and there’s a whole new gallery of interesting supers all brought into the fold by Odenkirk’s character. Edna Mode returns too, still hysterically voiced by director Bird himself. The magic of these films is that they’re not just flashy gloss or simply Disney fireworks, there’s actually themes to work through and things to ponder on their journey. I admire the addressing of media manipulation and collusion in how the supers are represented in the news, something that’s commonplace in the states today, as well as the raw angst of being a parent and trying to protect your young while simultaneously saving the world and rocketing around between very dangerous situations. This one is a winner, a little more dense and story heavy than the first was, but still knows how to have a great time in the action department, from chases aboard both a runaway subway train and a massive luxury ocean liner in the fast paced third act. Still feels as classy, cool and entertaining as the first, with a retro futurist vibe, striking tactile animation and a script packed with wit and innovation.

-Nate Hill