We are honored to present our latest conversation in our Actor’s Spotlight series. With this episode, Frank and Raymond Benson have a conversation with poet and actor Harry Northup who is living film history. Harry was featured in Martin Scorsese’s first six films WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR, BOXCAR BERTHA, MEAN STREETS, ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, TAXI DRIVER, and NEW YORK NEW YORK. Harry was also a frequent collaborator with maverick filmmakers Jonathan Demme and Jonathan Kaplan. Harry has been featured in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, TOM HORN, and OVER THE EDGE amongst many others. Harry recounts his very rich filmography, along with stories of working with actors Harvey Keitel, Richard Farnsworth, Billy Green Bush, Peter Boyle, and Steve McQueen.
James Coburn was an interesting actor for me because he flawlessly jumped the gap between old school silver screen Hollywood and the post mid 90’s Hollywood we know today, so you’re just as likely to spot him in a Turner Classic western flick as you are to hear his deep, comforting voice in a colourful Disney/Pixar film. He had a rumbling intensity that lent itself to alpha tough guy roles early on in his career and later on blossomed into a winking joviality that saw him land many roguish old rascal types. He was one of the greats, and these are my top ten personal favourite performances of his!
10. WitSec Chief Beller in Chuck Russell’s Eraser
He turns a quick extended cameo into something fun and memorable in this underrated Arnold Schwarzenegger SciFi romp. Arnie spends the whole film battling his treacherous former boss (James Caan) and just when Coburn’s big shot CEO shows up we think he’s going to be an even *bigger* bad than Caan but he turns out to be a pretty solid dude, acting as a Deus Ex Machina of sorts to bail the entire situation out.
9. Mr. Waternoose in Disney/Pixar’s Monsters Inc.
Here he explores his playful side as one of the antagonists of this animated classic. Waternoose is CEO of Monsters Inc., a cranky spider-crab thing who only has the company’s interests at heart and acts in a callous, unforgiving manner given blustery gusto by James and his baritone boom.
8. Thunder Jack in Disney’s Snow Dogs
Another Disney one! This is admittedly not the greatest film, a silly city slicker in the Arctic vehicle for Cuba Gooding Jr. James is a curmudgeonly surrogate father who whips him into shape and gives him a good dose of tough love along the way. I have a soft spot for this since it’s one of the first films I ever saw in theatres as a kid, James is terrific fun in it and the squabbling banter he has with Cuba is a treat for kids.
7. Derek Flint in Our Man Flint and In Like Flint
Long before Mike Myers ever spoofed James Bond in Austin Powers, Coburn starred as slick super-spy Derek Flint in these films and they are kind of all over the friggin place. Super 60’s vibe, full of sexy chicks and dastardly villains and James makes a simultaneously klutzy and suave parody of 007.
6. Sedgwick‘The Manufacturer’ in John Sturges’s The Great Escape
This classic WWII flick sees a gigantic ensemble cast full of multiple big names try and get out of a German POW camp with James playing a logistical expert and tools provider with that classic sly glint in his eye.
5. Britt in John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven
Strong silent type and expert knife thrower, Britt is one of the less show-boaty and understated among this classic band of antiheroes, but definitely one of the most memorable. James looked like he had some First Nations background which adds to the rugged western flavour here. He’s kind of like the Mads Mikkelsen knife throwing character in Antoine Fuqua’s (who also coincidentally directed the Magnificent Seven remake) underrated King Arthur (a film I will always champion) : low key, man of few words, but deadly as all hell and super charismatic.
4. Jack Buchanin Joe Dante’s Second Civil War
Alongside Barry Levinson’s Wag The Dog this is one of THE most criminally overlooked political satires of all time, and I imagine that both films were deliberately buried in terms of marketing because they’re just a *bit* too close to the way things sadly actually work in the world and those in charge didn’t want too many people exposed to such dead-on, accurate material. James plays advisor to the president during a time of ludicrous crisis and his perpetual exasperation at having to rationalize postponing executive decisions because they interrupt POTUS’s favourite soap opera is priceless, as an actor he truly understood comedy and had a gift for it.
3. Justin Fairfax in Brian Helgeland’s Payback
This wry neo noir sees Mel Gibson’s career criminal Porter going on a cynical rampage to get some money he was jewed out of, and Coburn is one of the powerful underworld bosses in his way. Fairfax hilariously seems to have little interest in Porter or the serious situation though, he’s just returned from vacation and is more concerned about his fancy luggage than any intruders with guns. James makes hysterical work of line delivery like “That’s just mean, man!!” When Gibson blows a bullet hole through his suitcases. It’s a juicy, eccentric cameo and brings some comic relief to the table.
2. George Caplan in Michael Lehmann’s Hudson Hawk
Talk about an underrated, misunderstood gem of a film. Bruce Willis is Hawk, the worlds greatest cat burglar on his craziest mission yet and up against all kinds of kooky cartoonish villains. Coburn’s Caplan is an ex military prick with a huge attitude problem, a mercenary for hire who commands a private unit of weirdo operatives named after candy bars like ‘Kit Kat.’ James understands this bizarre material and turns George into a rapscallion of a villain, whether he’s terrorizing local town folk or reminiscing about his Cold War spy days where he was ‘getting laid every night.’
1. Glen Whitehouse in Paul Schrader’s Affliction
This is the role that landed him an Oscar and it’s well earned. Affliction is the bleak, difficult tale of the Whitehouse clan, an ill fated New England family presided over by Coburn’s volcanically abusive, black hearted patriarch, a man who seems to reap poisoned soul food out of terrorizing his own family. He’s a mean, crass, violent old fucking rotten bastard but James is too good of an actor to play him one note. Glen is a monster but there’s shades of humanity when his wife passes, albeit briefly. There’s gnarled self hatred, a booze soaked, misanthropic nature to him and many other carefully calibrated aspects that make this one of the best pieces of acting in film.
Ever heard the expression ‘trip over your own ambitions’ ? That applies in full force to Steve McQueen’s Widows, a film that doesn’t have half the time needed to nurture, juggle or resolve the nebula of plots, twists, sub plots and sub-twists it tries to throw out there. That’s not to say that it isn’t a valiant effort; this is a film that tries a lot of things, is very innovative and engages often, but ultimately it’s just not enough and feels more like a running start without the follow through of flight. In the opener we see a heist that goes about as incredibly wrong as it could: cops hunt down a crew of high stakes robbers led by career criminal Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson), gunning them all down. Viola Davis is his wife Veronica, left to pick up the pieces when thuggish wannabe politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree James) and his sociopathic brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya is a beast) come looking for money he owed them before he died. That’s when she gets the idea to carry out the plans for his would-be next heist, joined by the other widowed women of his crew. There’s also an overarching subplot involving corrupt electoral candidate Tom Mulligan (Colin Farrell), his racist, old-money prick of a father (Robert Duvall with fire n’ brimstone mode activated) and others in both low income and Ivy League Chicago, which aren’t as far apart as you think, as McQueen shows us in an all too obvious extended shot of a car ride. There are aspects I loved; the opening heist, shot mostly POV from the back of the van, is a whiz banger, taut and packed with adrenaline. The performances are excellent all round, from Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki as other wives of the fallen robbers to memorable supporting turns from Jacki Weaver, Garrett Dillahunt, Jon Bernthal, Carrie Coon, Kevin J. O’Connor, a quietly scene stealing Lukas Haas, the most excellent Cynthia Erivo and many more. The narrative encapsulates the heists themselves with ongoing conflict including racism, urban politics, interracial romance, low income versus filthy rich, nepotism and everything in between, and this ambition to explore many avenues in one go is where the film fatally falters. The widow’s heist, when we finally come around to it, is brazen and impactful but blares by too quick for the payoff leading up to it. Hans Zimmer’s score echoes stuff like Heat but seems to only really show up now and again instead of being a prominent presence. At two hours and nine minutes, McQueen just didn’t leave himself enough time to properly cultivate relationships, build enough tension, explain his narrative fluidly or develop the characters that he clearly loves. It’s unfortunate because the guy is one hell of a director, both with his actors and his camera, he knows how to tell a story and make it feel fresh, unpredictable and just spontaneously offbeat enough to seem like real life as opposed to a story that obviously works within the parameters of script. He’s a thoroughbred, but he didn’t leave enough track to run on with this one, and I almost feel like he would have been better off going the episodic route here, as it would have had way more space to breathe and audiences far more time to ruminate on the events. Worth watching to see everything cascade by like a parade in fast forward, but don’t expect to be satisfied with wrap ups or conclusions.
They say the mark of a good writer is their ability to distill the essence of their story into one or two sentences. Now, it is very easy to distill the plot of Krull into a summary or a logline of that length. However, it is entirely another matter for me to briefly encapsulate for you, dear PTS listener, how much I love this movie.
All I can say is, from the moment I saw it, I loved it.
Well Krull, for me, is the embodiment of the perfect movie. It harkens back to those great adventure novels I had read prior. Tales that primarily involve a hero on a quest to: rescue the princess, defeat the bad guy and save the day. A tried and true formula if ever there was one.
That’s broad-stroking it sure – but at the heart of it – that is Krull.
At the same time you have a movie that is part science fiction, part fantasy/adventure, part traditional hero’s journey. Combined with the elements of impressive scope, danger, excitement, laughs, thrills, spills, chills – I could gush for days, if given the opportunity.
It is also a film with remarkable talents on display, both in front and behind the camera. A cast made up of phenomenal veteran performers and vibrant newcomers – which in some cases would go on to have individually storied careers and achieve great heights of fame. Yes Liam Neeson, I’m talking about you.
The production team mirrors the cast. A mixture of seasoned craftsmen with future icons – none more so than a young man named James Horner, eventual Academy Award winner, who composed, for my money, one of the greatest scores in cinema history.
And so to my guest…
I have long wished to speak to someone, anyone , who worked on my favorite picture of all time, so, as I often do, I reached out and after a long stretch I was surprised to have a reply from producer Ron Silverman. What joy! Naturally, I had thousands of questions, but, being gracious and appreciative for the time my guests grant me, I narrowed the list down to the essentials – this being both efficient timewise and satisfying enough for my curiosity. And trust me, though our time was brief – there were many revelations and delights to be had.
Many people have looked at me funny when I tell them Krull is my favorite picture. I guess they assume it would, more likely than not, be one of the big ones like JAWS, STAR WARS or SUPERMAN. All of these are vital and I do have a resounding love for them true, but, when you find a picture you can watch over and over – a film which delights as much on the thousandth viewing as it did the very first – well Krull is that for me. I hope you’ll enjoy listening to some insights from this – my favorite movie.
C. Courtney Joyner is a successful writer/director/novelist. He was a zombie in a Romero movie, he hangs out with L.Q. Jones and Tim Thomerson, he was once roommates with Renny Harlin and made the breakfasts while Harlin got the girls. It makes me think of Steve Coogan’s line from Ruby Sparks, “how do I go back in time and be him.”
Truth is we are the same in many instances. We’re just on different sides of the globe and one of us is in the big leagues while the other is at the scratch and sniff end of the business. But we both love movies and fantastic adventures. We both wrote to the filmmakers we loved long before the director became celebrity. We both longed for more info from behind the scenes – long before such material was in abundance.
He grew up in Pittsburgh, the son of a doctor and a reporter. He came of age in the glory days of monster movies and adventure fiction. Then he headed west and after college it wasn’t long before his writing caught the attention of producers and thus a career was spawned.
Spending those early years working with Charles Band and his company, Empire, Joyner was prolific, and soon the writer became a director. All the while he was working on a dream project, a work we all have in us, that he was fighting to bring into the light.
It was a love of Jules Verne and the “what if” type scenario that gave birth to the early version of the story that would become his current masterwork Nemo Rising; a long-awaited sequel, if you will, to 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.
His story would go through several incarnations before finally reaching the form into which it has now solidified. Swirling around him were big blockbuster versions which never quite surfaced. Names like Fincher and Singer and stars like Will Smith were linked to these big dollar deals.
Unfortunately even Joyner’s long-form TV version came close, but didn’t get handed a cigar. So at a friend’s insistence he wrote the book and his publisher, in spite of the property being linked at that time to a screen version that fell apart, agreed to still put the book out.
Thus Joyner’s Nemo has risen and at last we can, for now, revel in it’s existence. I believe it is only a matter of time before it shall acquire enough interest – and the new major playing field – the field of series television may yet be the staging ground for Courtney’s long-suffering tribute to the genius of Verne and the thrilling enigma of a character known as Captain Nemo.
Long have I waited to chat with him and it was well worth the wait. So, here now I present my interview with the man that director Richard Lester (The Three Musketeers, Robin and Marion, Superman II) once mistook for a girl that was eagerly interested in film.