Tag Archives: Shane Black

City of Dark Angels: Nate’s Top Ten LA Noir films

Los Angeles is a place of bright sunny daydreams, hopeful aspirations of fame and fortune and the ever present hum of the Hollywood industry. It’s a fascinating arena to watch a film noir unfold but between the palms, roaming the hilly outskirts and permeating the cityscape is often a deep, sleazy corruption and sense of danger at every turn, apparent in many films that explore the dark, noirish side of town. Vice cops on the take, starlets on the run from powerfully evil forces, mobsters running the show from behind the scenes and grisly serial murderers that inspire films of their own, it’s all there and more. Here are my top ten in this sexy, beautiful and often hilarious sub-genre.. Oh one more thing! Please keep in mind I’m still a young’in and haven’t seen pretty much any of the old LA crime films dating back to black and white days of the 40’s and 50’s.. one day we’ll get to those, but for now these are my favourite one from a more contemporary scope of vision.. Enjoy!

10. Carl Franklin’s Devil In A Blue Dress

Denzel Washington sniffs out corruption most foul in this sweaty potboiler that includes a mysterious femme fatale (Jennifer Beals), a politician (the late Maury Chaykin) with some disturbing skeletons in his closet and a scary rogue cop (Tom Sizemore). The narrative is reliably serpentine, Denzel pulls off a smooth performance and the atmosphere is all grit, shadows and smoked out jazz clubs.

9. Lee Tamahori’s Mulholland Falls

In this vision of 40’s LA, corruption has to stand up to Nick Nolte’s Max Hoover, an off the book vigilante cop who doles out brutal frontier style justice on gangsters along with his equally ruthless crew (Michael Madsen, Chris Penn and Chazz Palminteri). This one has a bad rep but it’s fantastic, the scope of the central mystery spans to the outskirts of town and includes a mysterious songbird (Jennifer Connolly), a weirdo Air Force colonel (John Malkovich) and more. It’s a positively star studded piece of work with cameos buried like hidden treasure throughout, a spectacular sense of time and place thanks to lavish production design and a hard edged, angry lead performance from Nolte at his most battered and distraught.

8. Shane Black’s The Nice Guys

The buddy comedy gets a royal workout in this balls out pairing between Russell Crowe’s aloof thug for hire and Ryan Gosling’s moronic private eye. The plot here is almost impenetrable but it’s no matter, most of the fun is in the colourful, detailed 1970’s production design and Black’s trademark deadpan dialogue which we get in spades. Ooo, and an icily sexy turn from Kim Basinger as the city’s most corrupt government official, a deliberate callback to another film later on this list.

7. Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Combining elements of classic noir with the zany cartoon aesthetic and using stunning technology to do so, this miracle of a film parades around pretty much every animated character you can think of in a tale of humans living alongside ‘Toons’ in an alternate reality Los Angeles. A trip to Toon Town, the sultry femme fatale Jessica Rabbit (Kathleen Turner) a truly terrifying villain (Christopher Lloyd), an intrepid private eye (Bob Hoskins) and so much more can be found in this timeless, visually dazzling classic.

6. Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential

A sprawling, diabolical tale of police corruption, this brilliant, galvanizing piece of crime cinema launched the international careers of both Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, both providing solid, brawny tough guy turns. Kim Basinger gives arguably her best performance as a blonde bombshell starlet, Kevin Spacey is splendid as a headline hogging super cop who reeks of self loathing and James Cromwell makes for one terrifying villain as the last guy you want as a Police Commissioner. The real star here is the script, a labyrinthine tale that takes its time imparting revelations and ends with several dark secrets and a bang-up shootout. Oh, and remember Rollo Tomassi.

5. DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea

Val Kilmer explores the duality of man as both a nocturnal meth-head and a mournful trumpet player in this curious, dreamy and altogether captivating piece of pulp bliss. Populated by eccentric actors like Danny Trejo, R. Lee Ermey, Meat Loaf and Vincent D’Onofrio in a bizarre encore as a drug kingpin called Pooh Bear, this is one of the most distinctive and memorable crime flicks out there. From it’s haunting trumpet solos set against the sunset on the shores of the titular waters to the feverish late night shenanigans of Kilmer and his band of druggie freaks to a slow burn revenge subplot that creeps up from behind, this is a brilliant picture.

4. HBO’s True Detective: Season 2

This might be a controversial pick a) because it’s a season of television and not a feature film and b) because this season isn’t regarded as quality content in some circles. Well… with these lists I envision a world of blogging where film and TV occupy the same realm and also I will defend this incredible story to the grave. Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch and Vince Vaughn play lost souls in a fictional California county who begin to uncover a dense, decades old trend of conspiracy and corruption in their midst. It’s bleak, fatalistic and hyper stylized but the truth of each character and the season’s dark themes overall shine through wonderfully. It’s one of my favourite seasons of television ever produced and simply undeserving of any dislike thrown its way.

3. Ethan & Joel Coen’s The Big Lebowski

What do marmots, nihilists, White Russians, bowling, sarsaparilla, interpretive dance, dirty undies and the sheriff of Malibu have in common? It’ll take a couple of viewings to completely string together the Coen’s farcical cult classic and distill it to a point of cohesion, but is that really the point anyways? This film has sort of spawned a subculture and taken on a life all its own. A purebred masterpiece of screwball elements, abstract dream sequences, stoned out tomfoolery and the bad guy from Roadhouse playing a pornographer who likes to draw dicks… what more do we need?

2. Michael Mann’s Collateral

There’s a point in this film where a lone coyote ambles across the LA interstate while Jamie Foxx’s introverted cab driver and Tom Cruise’s philosophical hitman look on in dreamy bemusement to the tune of Groove Armada’s haunting ‘Hands Of Time’ in the background. It’s striking for a few different reasons.. it serves the plot none other than to highlight both the savage, jungle law nature of Los Angeles and to remind us that the colour of this beast’s coat mirrors that of Cruise’s hair and leaves us to wonder if that is deliberate or just us making conjecture. Mann’s brilliant crime thriller is full of moments like these, subtle instances, eerie coincidences and mood setting interludes that make it something more than just your average cat and mouse thriller, something deep, meditative and primal.

1. Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

As a once aspiring actor I’ve always had this fantasy of becoming casted by accident and catapulted into the LA scene by sheer happenstance, and that’s exactly what happens to hapless Robert Downey Jr in this hilariously meta send up of noir in general. Of course the lucky break isn’t without strings attached, the main one being Val Kilmer’s scene stealing private detective Gay Perry. The two of them bicker their way down a rabbit hole involving an aspiring actress (Michelle Monaghan, luminous), a shady tycoon (Corbin Bernsen) and numerous other lowlifes and weirdos the great city has to offer. Downey and Kilmer win the day with their utterly hilarious and touching characterizations, spurred by Black’s winning dialogue and an overall sense that everyone involved has a deep love for all things Hollywood.

Thanks for reading!! What are some of your favourite LA Noirs?

-Nate Hill

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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

Shane Black’s The Predator

So.. Shane Black’s The Predator. Haters gonna hate I suppose, but I really don’t get the negativity thrown this one’s way, it’s a shit ton of fun. Admittedly a stark departure from any other film in the franchise, Black’s signature is to brand things with an irreverent comedic stamp, and they should have realized that when they handed over the torch to him. This is Predator in American suburbia, a much smaller film than those before, but no less gory, imaginative or propulsive, and certainly nowhere close to as disappointing as I’ve read in some of these hilarious reviews. After a jungle set opening that mirrors John McTiernan’s original classic both visually and musically, a device worn by one of the Predators gets accidentally mailed to the young son (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) of the military sniper (Boyd Holbrook, channeling 80’s Michael Biehn nicely) who managed to kill one of them, all hell breaks loose when the rest of the creatures come looking for it, and intergalactic war hits the home front. Holbrook is placed on a prison bus populated by the Loonies, disgraced ex soldiers with PTSD who serve as the perfect rogue unit to abscond with the bus and take on the aliens using guns, bad jokes, a constant stream of profanity and eccentric personalities. Elsewhere, Olivia Munn’s super scientist makes educated guesses about both the intentions and biology of the Predators, eventually joining forces with the Loonies. It’s madcap and almost has an adult Amblin vibe which actually works quite well. Scene stealer Sterling K. Brown makes an oddball villain as a snarky Fed with his own agenda, while Jake Busey slyly plays the son of his dad’s Uber Predator hunter from the 1990 sequel. Now, the Loonies are as off colour a bunch as you’d expect to see in a Shane Black flick, but for me their weird chemistry and crudeness worked. Keegan Michael Key is the coked up comic relief, a guy who punctuates every awkward silence with a severely raunchy joke, Alfie Allen is underwritten but present, Trevente Rhodes scores big as Nebraska Williams, a chain smoking ex CO who is the brains of the bunch. My favourite performance of the film is Thomas Jane cast way against type as Baxley, who suffers from Tourette’s except when the plot requires him to steadily hold a firearm. I’ve read a lot of people call his character insensitive and I’m not sure what they’re drawing from, I have a family member who has Tourette’s and Jane’s work here is one of the most realistic depictions I’ve seen on film, it’s probably just all the other comedic commotion around him that accents it. Alongside Jane, I really like Munn, who obviously doesn’t look the part of a brainy scientist but fully gets the vibe here and has a lot of fun with her role. The Predators themselves seem bigger, louder and more vicious than before, often seen in broad daylight, with nastier attitudes and, at one point, speaking in plain English albeit via translator. Their part of the story is definitely far fetched but has imagination and thought put into it. They’re less the hunters here (except for that eleven foot tall motherfucker) and more like space spies with their own private feud going on. This has obviously been a divisive film so far.. I’ve heard a buddy say that it’s ‘one of the worst movies he’s ever seen.’ I can’t imagine that’s anything but overzealous overkill, it’s not an instant classic or anything but it was bloody fun, entertaining stuff. Honestly, my only complaint? It wasn’t long enough. There are areas that feel patchy and I imagine that’s where this studio interference I keep hearing about took place, and although it doesn’t come close to ruining the movie, I’d really love to see a director’s cut from Black at some point. But what we got was a solid blast of a film from where I’m sat. I mean, you get a guy like Shane Black to make a Predator film, it’s not like this is some gun for hire, he’s his own specific artist and is going to make the thing his way. Studio cuts aside, he’s done a slam bang job here, an action horror comedy sci-fi hybrid that feels as retro as it should while injecting new life and flavour into the mythos. Call me crazy, I guess.

-Nate Hill

John McTiernan’s Predator

Action doesn’t get more rough, badass or straight up entertaining than John McTiernan’s Predator. The popcorn summer movie mantle was designed for stuff like this and throughout the 80’s and 90’s each one made its own influences and shaped the way the blockbuster has evolved. This is arguably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best, just behind or right along side the Terminator films. Packed to the gills with the kind of gruesome, blood soaked action intrigue we don’t see much anymore or at least without glossy CGI. Here the violence is tactical, doused in gallons of blood and amped up for maximum impact, like when Arnie’s Dutch and his team of rough n’ ready mercs stumble upon bodies that have been skinned alive. Called in for a routine black ops mission in the jungles of Central America, they discover there’s something far worse out there than rebels, and that something happens to be an eight foot tall trophy hunter from another galaxy, with whiplash dreadlocks and a face that would give Freddy Krueger nightmares. He’s essentially an extraterrestrial big game hunter who picks off humanity’s toughest customers in the ultimate intergalactic safari, and Arnie happens to be right in his path. His team is made up of the most colourful badasses the 80’s has to offer including wiseass Jesse Ventura, jumpy Carl Weathers, spooked out Bill Duke and stoic tracker Sonny Landham, who’s my favourite by far (“there’s somethin in that jungle, and it ain’t no man”). Also on their team is Shane Black, of all people, which I didn’t realize until my most recent rewatch but it makes sense since he’s the mastermind behind this fall’s The Predator, which I’m very excited for. The highest praise doesn’t even do this film justice; it’s simply one of those ones that isn’t even up for debate in terms of quality, it practically spawned its own genre. Arnie & Co. light up the jungle with enough heavy artillery to launch a coup, the Predator uses cunning tactics and brutal tricks of its own to hunt them one by one, and the whole region erupts with the sound, fury, carnage and commotion of their fight for survival. This has gone on to produce a sequel (which is just as brilliant, fight me), a Robert Rodriguez helmed update (also great), a couple crossovers with the Alien franchise (which were just plain awful) and the aforementioned Shane Black rendition. This started it though, from Arnie chomping up cigar after cigar to Ventura levelling the trees with a giant mini gun to Landham feverishly taking on the Predator with just his 13 inch hunting knife, it’s an action palooza that’s very of it’s time and therefore refreshingly un-PC (I trust in black to keep that spirit alive for his version), and has stood the time as a gold standard of action sci-fi genre heaven. Don’t forget to get to that chopper.

-Nate Hill

THE ‘SHOWDOWN’ TRIPLE FEATURE by Kent Hill

This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .

Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.

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These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly,  died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.

The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.

For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky (The man on the rise), Matthias Hues (The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman (the veteran screenwriter).

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Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.

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Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

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Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.

 

 

 

In the footsteps of Schwarzenegger: An Interview with Peter Kent by Kent Hill

Ever been mistaken for somebody famous? Someone ever come up to you sayin’, “Hey you know, you look a hell-of-lot-like (insert famous actor here). You could be his stunt double.”

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Peter wasn’t in Hollywood long before he heard about a little film being made called The Terminator. He went down and met with the film’s director, this young guy named James Cameron. Then, he met the film’s star, a chap named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Peter bore a striking resemblance to the man who would ever be Conan. It was after this encounter that would secure Peter a gig for the next 13 years as guy who made Arnie look as though all the rough stuff he endured on screen looked like a cakewalk.

Of course, along the way, Peter became a star in his own right; not only playing small roles in Schwarzenegger movies, but amassing an impressive list of credits in both film and television alongside his stunt work.

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Nowadays however, Peter is a contented family man and is equally as dedicated to training the next generation of stunt performers. And who better to learn from than one of the best. This was a great interview with tales of life with Arnold, fighting over the channel changer with Jesse Ventura and having a beer with Charlton Heston.

So dear PTS listeners I give you a chat between two Kents. And no, I’ve never been mistaken for Peter.

Enjoy . . .

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(FOR MORE ON PETER’S STUNT SCHOOL FOLLOW THIS LINK: http://peterhkent.com/1school.shtml )

The Nice Guys: A Review by Nate Hill 

The Nice Guys is a torrential downpour of laughs, prat falls and lovable idiocracy, a formula which director Shane Black perfected with his super underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This one is no doubt it’s sister film, and while it has comedy in spades, top tier performances all round and luscious 1970’s production design, it’s just a we bit under-plotted. Having said that, that’s my one and only complaint about it. It’s the funniest film of the year by far, thanks to the rough and tumble pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Crowe is Jackson Healy, a mopey hired thug who will put the hurt on anyone if the dollar is right. This occupation has him cross the path of Holland March (Gosling) an ex cop PI who, according to his daughter (Angourie Rice), is the world’s worst detective. He’s certainly a buffoon, a trait which forms one half of their comedic shtick, the other being Healy’s laid back exasperation everytime March gets them into trouble, which is pretty much throughout the entire film. The two of them unwittingly stumble into a dangerous turn events involving the justice department, murder, the apparant suicide of a porn star (Margaret Qualley), a very scary assassi  (Matt Bomer) and one angry goon played by an afro’d out Keith David. It’s tough to make heads or tails of what’s really going on, but like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang it’s not about the plot or the outcome, it’s more about watching the characters trip over each other in style as they get there. Crowe is terrific, a bear of a dude who’s in way over both his head, IQ and pay grade, aghast at Gosling’s antics at every turn. Gosling’s character belongs to that special class of stupid that is so clumsy that he circumnavigates his own ineptitude and ends up falling right into clues, without a clue how he got there. After a string of recent stoic introvert roles, he’s the most animated character of the film and is clearly having a ball. None of what the duo do would be possible without March’s precocious 13 year old daughter, played with uncanny ability by Rice, whose star is going to be solidly on the rise, I’d wager. A reunion of sorts occurs with the arrival of Kim Basinger as the head of the justice department, joining Crowe again after their work in L.A. Confidential. Basinger isn’t given much to do ultimately, but her presence is a welcome addition to the vibe. Black deserves kudos for his gorgeous recreation of L.A. in the 70’s, right down to the sickening lampshades pastel suits and souped up cars it’s a treat to see. The energy from Crowe and Gosling is where it’s at with this one, and they both eagerly tuck in to the dialogue, making this one groovy, delirious riot of a flick.