Tag Archives: stephen sommers

Playing with G.I. Joes: The Next Level by Kent Hill

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George Miller long ago professed his love of pure cinema, or cinema as visual music. His celluloid illustrations of this stance have not only influenced their genre, but the entire cinematic experience itself. So when watching Rene Perez’s foray in this arena, Dr. George’s words again filtered to my ear.

Perez having a natural aptitude and mastery of music applies Miller’s methodology with his Snake Eyes tribute; the essence of the real power of the movies, functioning entirely without dialogue. Of course, to the casual viewer, I can appreciate this experience may be jarring. But for those with a wider appreciation and deep passion for the motion picture know, all too well, that before the advent of sound…this is what movies where like. The skill of the filmmaker on center stage, showing the audience everything they need; forcing participation on some level.

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Miller’s Fury Road is an absolute masterclass in action movie making, and here, Rene Perez, the Robert Rodriguez of Redding, showcases (in a similar fashion) not only his action storytelling chops, but what is possible today on a small scale; a petite though triumphant piece of film-making, boxing above its weight class in terms of the size of the production to what one experiences as the picture unfolds.

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Perez shines consistently with his fluid camera work and editing style, set against the backdrop of the glorious vistas at his disposal. The mixture of these elements with the age old story of a man on a mission makes this a work of depth, not short-changing the viewer in terms of suspense and intrigue, considering the genre. Patterned after his beloved G.I. Joe (America’s highly trained special mission force), Perez winks back across the years at Joe-lovin’ youngster he used to be: “G.I. Joe were my favorite action figures and comic books when I was a kid. I always had Snake Eyes version 1 or 2, in my pocket when I was little,” Perez remarked.

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Rene makes films about characters driven by strong ideals. They overcome imposing odds to secure, not merely internal peace or the slaying of an old demon, but to also make amends for an old hurt; leaving nothing left unsaid, leaving no deed undone. “In these fight scenes in particular, I wanted to show that Snake Eyes has a code of honour when fighting hand to hand, that he is also a tactical thinker when it comes to using firearms.”

Teaming up once again with producer Joseph Camillari, Perez’s collaborator on The Insurrection and the (currently in production) western Righteous Blood, together with a cast that includes Beauty Queen Miss Nevada 2020, Victoria Olona (as Snake Eyes’ wife), and seventh-degree black belt Juan Manuel Olmedo as the title character.

We all enjoyed (at least I did) grabbing a handful of G.I. Joes and going all Stephen Sommers (long before that sort of thing was popular) in Mum’s garden beds. Anything went, as the cinema of our mind’s eye focused as we led brave soldiers in their never-ending fight against Cobra, the ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

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After the dust settles on the great conjunction of unfortunate events that is 2020, we shall slowly witness the emergence of the work that those with the ability to harness their creativity and the tools afforded them have made. Rene Perez made a blinding, kick-ass action valentine to his favorite of the Joes – code name: Snake Eyes.

WATCH IT NOW!!!

Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing

Who loves the Hugh Jackman Van Helsing flick? I know plenty who hate on it pretty bad but they’re looking at it from too serious a perspective. This comes from Stephen Sommers, the same horror filmmaker to bring us stuff like The Mummy, Deep Rising, GI Joe and the 90’s Jungle Book with Cercei Lannister. This guy is in the industry to make films for fun and if you were expecting the subtlety and restraint of horrors like the source material he draws from well, jokes on you. His Helsing is a splendidly entertaining cornucopia of horror mythology given a juiced up boost of contemporary style and plenty of gothic, mist soaked atmosphere.

Jackman’s Van Helsing ditches the creaky old man archetype for something more virile and torqued up, careening around London like a steampunk Indiana Jones and sporting enough gnarly gadgetry to take on Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman in one film, which coincidentally he does. He’s sort of half sanctioned by the government but the London police force resents his far out methods, especially in a stunning opening romp as he chases Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (a scene stealing Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane) across rooftops and edifices like a supernatural parkour death match. Then it’s off to Transylvania to do battle with the big bad Vamp King himself, played to melodramatic, emo perfection by Richard Roxburgh. There’s a loose plot involving Dracula wanting to use Dr. Frankenstein’s corpse revitalizing technology to bring his unholy offspring to life, and as such his work poisons the land, pisses off the locals and prompts sexy monster hunter Kate Beckinsale to call for Helsing’s help. It’s an off the rails theme park ride of splatter effects, wild performances and extended chase sequences all over the land. Jackman makes a stalwart antihero, while Beckinsale looks amazing in leather and is surprisingly convincing as an Eastern European. David Wenham provides comic relief cast against type as Van’s trusty clergyman sidekick and the cast is rounded out by Shuler Hensley as The Monster, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp and Kevin J. O Connor as Igor in a cool black and white prologue that serves as the one sequence paying homage to these horror roots.

This was never going to be an awards season darling but it’s nowhere close to as bad as people say. Any film that has all three iconic monsters in it (plus quite a few others too) is going to have a lot to juggle and will just feel chaotic by default, but Sommers handles the pandemonium quite well and knows how to spin an absorbing popcorn yarn. There’s plenty of drop dead gorgeous landscape cinematography given the appropriately macabre touches, monsters running all about the place to give horror fanatics their fix and enough action to spawn a whole video game franchise. My favourite part is where Dracula’s babies finally hatch in spectacularly gooey fashion from Alien style eggs and start swarming the landscape like demonic infant bats. That sequence alone is worth the price of admission and showcases the kind of gung-ho, all or nothing spirit of horror adventure filmmaking offered here. Love this film.

-Nate Hill

Who would your wife rather go to bed with, Stallone or Goldman…? An Interview with Paul Power by Kent Hill

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“Power Pack” as he was dubbed by director Peter Berg (The Rundown, Hancock, Battleship) is a more than appropriate substitute of a name for an electric personality that has done it all when it comes to the trade of an illustrator.

The Australian born lad who started out drawing comics for newspapers soon found himself becoming a fully fledged commercial artist, working within the music industry, designing album covers. From there he would come to the City of Angels and at Hanna-Barbera he would work, animating some of Saturday morning’s finest cartoons.

The film industry would become his next conquest. He has credits as a storyboard artist and conceptual illustrator are numerous, to put it simply. He was there when Richard Donner blew up at Spielberg, he and Arnold Schwarzenegger retooled the ending of Predator, he was working on a sequel to The Last Starfighter that never took flight, he was stuck in transit and drawing cartoons for sushi when he was set to act in Anthony Hopkins’ directorial debut, Slipstream.

Paul has pissed off a few people off in his time, but he continues to speak his mind and states that if people don’t like him, or if his work is not good enough then he’ll walk, moving on to the next adventure. That could very easily be one the screenplays he is at work on now as I type these words. One is a film adaptation of his awesome comic East meets West.

He was as inspiring as I had hoped to chat with. His devotion to his work is a lesson to all who have dreams of glory whether they be cinematic or artistically inclined. I find myself forgoing things that used to take me away, easy distractions if you will, from my work till my work is complete in the wake of our conversation. It’s not enough to will things into existence – you must strive for excellence, pay your dues, give it all you got and that might get you half way. The rest of the journey is built on hard work, of which Paul Power is the personification. When he’s not doing impersonations of Schwarzenegger or talking wrestling with David Mamet he is ever busy.

If you have a few minutes now, hang out, have a laugh, be inspired. Have pencil will travel.

PTS listeners, I present the irrepressible Paul Power.

http://www.paulpower.com/

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THE MUMMY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Many cinephiles view director Stephen Sommers as the cinematic equivalent of Satan, and with everything that has gone horribly wrong with Hollywood blockbuster films. And, to be fair, with films like Van Helsing (2004) and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) on a not-too impressive resume (in fact, looking over his filmography, there’s only one film of his I like), he’s hardly a filmmaker one equates with quality, but I will admit to being quite fond of The Mummy (1999). As far as Indiana Jones rip-offs go, it is pretty good. If that sounds like faint praise, I don’t mean it to be as Sommers’ film is actually a lot of fun and entertaining as hell.

The movie is the very popular re-imagining of the old Boris Karloff classic and would go on to spawn two inferior sequels and transform Brendan Fraser into a bonafide leading man. Up to that point he had a reputation for starring in forgettable comedies like Encino Man (1992), The Scout (1994), and Airheads (1994). With The Mummy, he demonstrated some serious action film chops with a hint of romantic leading man qualities that were complimented by his knack for comedy, thankfully doled out in relative moderation this time. The end result is a satisfying popcorn movie with no other agenda than to entertain.

It’s 1923 and the French Foreign Legion engage the Medjai, descendents of Pharaoh Seti I, in battle at the legendary Hamunaptra, the City of the Dead. When his superior officer deserts, Rick O’Connell (Fraser) finds himself in charge, much to his chagrin. It certainly is an exciting way to introduce our leading man as he and his fellow soldiers attempt to stand their ground on the city walls as the Medjai attack in wave after wave. Brendan Fraser shows some decent action movie skills as his character valiantly tries to stay alive despite being overwhelmed by superior numbers and abandoned by his cowardly sidekick (and comic relief) Beni (Kevin J. O’Connor). Rick narrowly escapes and runs off into the desert where the Medjai leave him to die.

Three years later in Cairo, we meet bookish librarian Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) at the Museum of Antiquities as she single-handedly manages to topple over a room full of towering bookcases like dominoes when she attempts to shelve a book. It’s a cute bit of slapstick that establishes Evelyn as one of the most not-so graceful people on the planet. With her hair tied up and sporting a thick-rimmed pair of glasses, the movie’s greatest special effect may be trying to convince us that the gorgeous Rachel Weisz is a socially awkward bookworm (yeah, right). Evelyn’s application to bigger and better things has been rejected yet again because she doesn’t have enough field experience. Along comes her older ne’er-do-well brother Jonathan (John Hannah) who has discovered a trinket at an archaeological dig in Thebes. Inside it contains a map to the mythic Hamunaptra, the place where the earliest Pharaohs are said to have hidden the wealth of Egypt. No one has ever found it and naturally Evelyn’s boss scoffs at the notion of its very existence.

It turns out that Jonathan actually stole the map from Rick who is rotting away in prison. Jonathan and Evelyn pay him a visit and he agrees to tell them where the City of the Dead is located but only if they free him. They do (and just in the nick of time) and set out for the site with a rival expedition of American fortune hunters also looking for it. As luck would have it, they are led by Beni, setting up a personal rivalry between him and Rick. Both groups arrive at the City of the Dead and split up, each looking for treasure. However, the American fortune seekers uncover a curse that condemns their party to death.

Meanwhile, Rick and Evelyn uncover the coffin of Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the ruler of Hamunaptra and who carried on a forbidden affair with Seti I’s wife Princess Anck-su-namun (Patricia Velasquez). He was buried alive for his indiscretions while she killed herself. Evelyn unlocks the legendary Book of the Dead and reads from it, unwittingly resurrecting Imhotep who proceeds to kidnap Evelyn with the intention of sacrificing her so that his lover will also come back to life. It’s up to Rick, Jonathan and Ardeth Bey (Oded Fehr), the enigmatic leader of the Medjai, to stop Imhotep.

One of the things that makes The Mummy work is the chemistry between Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. At first, Evelyn sees Rick as an uncouth mercenary and he sees her as a naive stuffed shirt. But the more time they spend together, especially in death-defying situations, the more they grow to admire and respect one another. The two actors handle this development quite well and certainly make for an attractive couple with Fraser’s matinee idol good looks and Weisz’s beautiful appearance – a little something for everyone. They manage to transcend the predictable screenplay and often clichéd dialogue through the sheer force of their natural charisma. This is readily apparent in the campfire scene where one-night Rick teaches Evelyn a bit about hand-to-hand combat even though she’s had a little too much to drink. She ends up passing out just before they kiss, much to his bemusement. There’s a bit of an old school Hollywood vibe to this scene and to how these actors approach their respective roles that works.

mummy2.jpgAs far as Indiana Jones clones go, Rick doesn’t quite bring the slight air of danger that Harrison Ford brought to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the most obvious influence on The Mummy. Not to mention, Fraser has more hulking boyish good looks as opposed to Ford’s roguish charm. Also, Fraser relies more on comedy than Ford but as far as action-oriented treasure hunters go, you could do worse than Rick O’Connell. Fraser hasn’t really been able to capitalize on the success of this film, appearing in several generic children’s adventure films – although, he showed some promise co-starring with Michael Caine in an adaptation of The Quiet American (2002).

While Evelyn is certainly not as feisty and as capable as Marion in Raiders, she has more of an arc as she goes from sheltered academic to damsel in distress to experienced adventurer. At the time, Weisz was known for appearing in small, independent films and the success of The Mummy would launch her into the A-list stratosphere. She has fared the best of the cast, appearing in delightful romantic comedies like About a Boy (2002) and Definitely, Maybe (2008), and winning an Academy Award for her excellent work in The Constant Gardener (2005).

Sommers handles the action sequences with refreshing simplicity (something that would be absent from his subsequent films). We always know what’s going on and where everyone is. He clearly took notes while watching Raiders and manages to capture its flair for 1930 cliffhanger serials. The Medjai siege on the boat to Hamunaptra early on in the movie is particularly exciting and well-staged, evoking a real Indy Jones vibe.

As with so many big budget tent-pole movies for Hollywood studios, The Mummy was a project that gestated for years and went through many hands before it wound up with Sommers. This new version’s origins lie with producer James Jacks who decided in 1992 to update the original film for the 1990s. He struck a deal with Universal Pictures who agreed to back it but only on a budget around $10 million. Jacks remembered that the studio “essentially wanted a low-budget horror franchise.” To this end, he hired filmmaker/writer Clive Barker whose version was about the head of a contemporary art museum built like a pyramid. The man was actually a cultist trying to reanimate mummies. Jacks described it as “dark, sexual and filled mysticism.” Sadly, after several meetings, Barker and Universal lost interest in the project and parted ways.

Once Barker was off the project, George Romero was brought in and he wanted to make a zombie-style horror film along the lines of his legendary feature film debut, Night of the Living Dead (1968). However, Jacks and the studio wanted to make a mainstream film and felt that Romero’s vision was too scary. Next up was Joe Dante with a contemporary reincarnation tale with elements of a love story starring Daniel-Day Lewis as a brooding Mummy. John Sayles even co-wrote the script but Universal was only willing to spend $15 million on his vision. Jacks then offered the project to Mick Garris and also Wes Craven, both of whom passed.

In 1997, Stephen Sommers contacted Jacks with his take on The Mummy “as a kind of Indiana Jones or Jason and the Argonauts with the mummy as the creature giving the hero a hard time.” He saw the original film when he was only 8-years-old and with his version wanted to recreate the things he liked about it only on a bigger scale. He had wanted in on the project since 1993 but other writers or directors were always involved. Seizing a window of opportunity, he prepared an 18-page pitch to Universal. As luck would have it (for Sommers, that is), the studio had taken a bath on Babe: Pig in the City (1998) and in response, decided to revisit its successful franchises from the 1930s. Executives were so thrilled with Sommers’ concept for The Mummy that they increased the budget from $15 million to a staggering $80 million. Once he got the gig, he spent six months researching the film and then eight weeks writing the screenplay.

When it came time to cast Rick O’Connell, Jacks offered the role to Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck but they were either not interested or too busy. Jacks and Sommers were impressed with the box office receipts from George of the Jungle (1997) and cast Brendan Fraser as a result. The actor was drawn to the project because he was looking for an action film and liked the idea that Universal was reinventing one of its properties from the 1930s. For the character, he drew inspiration from the likes of Robin Hood, Buck Rogers and Sinbad. Most importantly, he understood that Rick was the kind of character who didn’t “take himself too seriously, otherwise the audience can’t go on that journey with him.”

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was shot over three months in Morocco and not in Egypt because of the unstable political conditions there. They also had the official support of the Moroccan army. In a reassuring touch, the cast had kidnapping insurance taken out on them. In addition, the cast and crew had to deal with blinding sandstorms and bad-tempered camels. The production had wranglers on set to catch snakes, scorpions and spiders at the end of every shooting day. This still didn’t prevent many crew members from being airlifted out after being bitten. Everyone also had to worry about dehydration when filming moved to the Sahara Desert. The production’s medical team ended up creating a beverage that the cast and crew had to drink every two hours.

mummy3Looking back, whatever good will Sommers garnered with The Mummy, he has subsequently pissed it all away with The Mummy Returns (2001), which reduced the number of quiet moments that developed the characters and told the story in the first movie in favor of wall-to-wall frenetic action and the addition of a bratty child (Rick and Evelyn’s offspring, natch) into the mix. Sommers didn’t return for the third and most disappointing installment (neither did Weisz) which is just as well. The damage had already been done with The Mummy Returns but the first movie is still a rousing, entertaining ride.

Stephen Sommer’s Deep Rising: A Review By Nate Hill

  

Stephen Sommers’s Deep Rising is some of the most fun you’ll have watching an overblown action horror spectacle, if that’s your type of thing. It plays the slimy underwater alien formula to the hilt, an epic and very funny gory swashbuckler that is sadly very underrated and not too talked about these days. It’s ridiculously watchable, insanely gory and punctuated by one liners and quips that work so well in the flippant context of the script. The story concerns a band of nasty sea pirates who plan to hijack the world’s largest ocean liner cruise ship, and all the riches onboard. They arrive to find the vessel empty of any passengers, and full of something they’ll wish they never came across. A massive and very icky underwater predator has eaten everyone onboard and now has turned its attention to the newcomers. They are picked off one by one in deliciously grotesque kills that show director Sommers in his little seen R rated mode. Treat Williams is a hoot as John Finnegan, a sort of cross between Indiana Jones and Bruce Campbell, a soldier of fortune and adventurer with a vernacular chock full of wiseass quotes and idioms that tickle the funny bone no end. He’s got a sidekick named Joey Pantucci (Kevin J. O Connor slays it) and a girlfriend named Trillian St. James (isn’t that the best name ever?) played by Famke Janssen in a fierce, sexy and capable turn as the chick with the gun that everyone loves. The trio make the film dizzyingly entertaining and you find yourself wishing you could hang out with them longer once it’s over. There’s a snivelling villain played by the always smarmy Anthony Heald, and the ragtag group of pirates are brought to life by distinct personalities such as Jason Flemyng, Cliff Curtis, Clifton Powell, Djimon Hounsou and the great Wes Studi. Sommers is a seriously underrated director. He spins loving odes to the adventure films of Old Hollywood with passion, wonder and the spark of imagination in spades. And what does he get? Critically and commercially spat on, time and time again, with some of his films not even getting a proper release (don’t get me started on the masterpiece that is Odd Thomas). Hollywood and the masses don’t deserve him and his toiling, thankless work, and yet he soldiers on. What a guy, and what a stellar filmmaker. This ones a testament, a rollicking, bloody piece of creature feature bliss that never fails to knock my socks right the hell off.
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