Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is my second favourite Batman movie thus far. It’s pretty underrated, stylishly cheeky and full of ornate, wonderfully oppressive, melancholic set design and drips with a gothic sensability that only Burton included in his versions, and seems to be missing from the franchise these days. It’s dark, comical and just a little bit campy, always a winning combination. Michael Keaton steps back into the batsuit for a second time, and he’s even more somber and downbeat than in Burton’s original 1989 film. Keaton is so talented, and one only needs to look at his zany work in Beetlejuice and compare it to the heft and restraint he shows as the caped crusader to see this. Here he’s faced with a snowy, blackened and endlessly corrupt Gotham City, this time under siege from three wildly different villains. Danny Devito plays Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. The Penguin, in what is probably the most outlandish character in the otherwise grim film. He’s a bad tempered, knobbly little gremlin, encased in sallow makeup and sporting disgusting, pasty little flippers. It’s hard to tell it’s even Devito at all until that little smart ass mouth opens up to hurl calculated obscenities at anyone and everyone. He aims to be mayor, and only in freaky deaky Gotham would a plan like that ever be taken seriously, from a sewer dwelling, animalistic mobster with an army of clowns following him. Christopher Walken plays evil, ghoulish Max Schreck, an amoral monster of a businessman with nefarious plans of his own, and a haircut that would make Andy Warhol run for cover. Last and most memorable is Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle, Schreck’s awkward, meek secretary who eventually becomes Catwoman. And what a Catwoman she is. Forget Anne Hathaway, Julie Newmar take a number, and we won’t even mention Halle Berry. No one played the pussy quite like Pfeiffer. She’s got a shiny, skin tight outfit with the body to match, a sassy, sexy attitude, a whip smart mouth on her and just a hint of psychosis, making her my favourite film incarnation of the character. “Meow” she purrs sensually as an incendiary bomb detonates behind her. Damn. They all get wrapped up in various schemes and scams. Penguin wants ultimate power, which apparantly involves kidnapping a bunch of infants. Schreck wants ruthless progress to tear Old Gotham up in worship of the almighty dollar, and Catwoman is content to slash and burn everyone’s plans, until she gets a bit of a smolder in her eye for Batman, providing some electric sexual tension between the two of them that’s a highlight of the film. Neither of them are sure whether they want to kiss or kill, fight or fuck the other, and it’s devilishly entertaining watching them hash out their hormones in naughty little action sequences and slow, slinky intimate scenes, involving both Bruce and Selina as well as their feral alter egos. Their chemistry revolves at the center of the piece, with all manner of circus sideshow madness happening around them. Pat Hingle and Michael Gough diligently put in work as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth, with Doug Jones, Michael Murphy, Andrew Bryarniarski and Paul Reubens rounding out the roster. Burton outdid himself with style on this one, his trademark eye for loving detail laboriously employed here to the point where it surpasses the artistry of a comic book and starts to look like some mad dream of Vincent Price. He dipped his toe in the water of the Batman universe with his first outing. Here he plunges headlong into it and fully commits to a style and tone that’s distilled to a satisfactory point that he wasn’t quite at with Batman 1989. A treasure in the franchise, and a wicked fun film at that.
Proud to present to you my latest interview, with Erick Avari, an instantly recognizable, charming actor who seems to pop up all over the place. He has very memorable appearances in films including The Mummy, Independence Day, Planet Of The Apes, Stargate, Daredevil, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Mr. Deeds, The Glass House, The 13th Warrior and more. He’s also done work in television shows like The X Files, Madam Secretary, The Mentalist, NCIS: Los Angeles, Castle, Lie To Me, Burn Notice, Heroes, The OC, Alias and many more. Enjoy!
Nate: When did you know you wanted to become an actor?
Erick: Age 14 (1966) It was something the late Fr. McGuire said in a class named “moral science” which was essentially a forum to talk about just about anything at all. While on the topic of an artists’ responsibility to society, and he astutely pointed out that societies have flourished when artists hold up a mirror to life and crumbled when artists stopped doing so. It seemed like a noble profession and the final nail in the coffin sealing my fate as an artist. If he were around today I’d have to ask if he thought Art imitates life or the other way around?
Nate: The Mummy: Care to speak a bit about your experience on this film?
Erick: Little bit of trivia. I was originally cast in the role Jonathan Hyde played and Omar Sharif was set to play the curator but two weeks before the shoot they called to say Omar had emergency hip surgery and so they were bumping me up to the role of the curator. It was a wonderful shoot! A couple of weeks in Marrakesh, a couple of weeks in London great cast and the most fun director to work with. It was magic. Made some lifelong friends and reestablished contact with some old. Who could ask for more?
Nate: Care to speak a bit about your years growing up in Darjeeling, India? It’s an area I’ve heard a lot about and would be fascinated to hear what you have to,say about it.
Erick: Funny you bring that up as just the other day some one posted a video of Darjeeling on Facebook and a flood of memories came pouring back. It is situated in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Nothing like you might imagine India to be at all. Small tourist town nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas with the most spectacular views of the worlds highest mountain, Kanchenjunga. I believe natural beauty stimulates the creative mind and it’s no wonder the residents have always had an affinity to the arts. Growing up I was surrounded by music, dance, theater, literature and given my father owned and operated the only two cinema halls in town, I was a very popular kid on Saturdays when traditionally the two would flock to see the latest “flick” that was playing at either the Capitol Cinema or The Rink (formerly a roller skating rink).
Nate: You have probably the best line in the movie Independence Day, despite only briefly appearing in the first scene. How was filming that for you, and how did it end up that you were uncredited for it?
Erick: Another story behind that. That was Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s way of saying thanks for my work on Stargate, shot the year before. Without going into too much detail but it was my first, “offer” and a very generous one to boot and I was overwhelmed with gratitude and though (mistakenly) and by not asking for billing I would be giving back in some stupid way. It was so wonderful to be appreciated and best of all, not having to go through the audition process. I can’t tell you how much of a joy that alone was but to be reunited with the same team even if it was for a week was heaven.
Nate: If you had to think of some of your favourite roles, in both film and theatre, what might they be?
Erick: Sir Richard in Jean Genet’s The Screens performed at The Guthrie theater in Minneapolis. One of the grandest productions on stage that I have been a part of (including King and I on Broadway) and perhaps the most acrobatic role physically I have ever undertaken. I ended up tearing ligaments in my ankle and finished the run on crutches. Best part, people thought the crutches were part of the play!
Vasquez in ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore at the Public theater with Val Kilmer, Jean Tripplehorn, Jarred Harris and on and on. Anyone who know the play knows that’s the run away role. Just loads of fun playing a smooth talking, eye gouging villain with an exit applause line designed to elicit applause to boot!
Nate: Daredevil: Nice to,see you pop in a comic book universe, playing Nikolas Natchios. How was your experience on that film?
Erick: I was completely charmed by Jennifer Garner and I had become friends with Michael Clarke Duncan over the 6 months we worked on Planet of the Apes together so that was …god I’m running out of superlatives but you have in fact touched on some wonderful moments in my career. Sufficeth to say, I miss Michael and feel he died way too young as he had so much to give to the world. He was a wonderful soul.
Nate: Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes: an underrated film for me, doesn’t deserve the negative reviews it’s gotten. How was your experience on this one?
Erick: I think a lot of people got robbed on that one starting with Rick Baker for make up. Tim Burton had a wonderful concept going into the film and we, the actors were so excited about where this one was going to go. It’s too bad there were too many opinions that had to be considered in the making of the film and it ended up to be a completely different animal (pun regretfully intended) and was perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of my career.
Nate: Any upcoming projects you are excited for and would like to speak about?
Erick: I am returning to the theater, that is as soon as I find a job! I have been burning to get back to my roots and fortunately I am no in a position in my life where I can afford to do just that. There are roles in the cannon that I have been waiting to grow into and King Lear is at the top of my list. It will be a challenge that I will have to work toward but that is on my bucket list. Shylock is one I’d like another shot at as well and I could go on and on on that score. I am also transitioning into directing independent features and working to develop several projects.
Nate: Films/Actors/Filmmakers that you admire and enjoy, and maybe have inspired your work?
Erick: I have learned so much from every director and actor I have ever worked with. I have been fortunate to have worked with some of the greats of our era and I was always cognizant of the fact that I was getting a free education every time at bat. I think you learn so much from just observing and being privy to the conversations that move the creative process forward. To mention Woody Allen and Lasse Hallestrom and leave out Mike Nichols (whom I worked with although my scene from Charlie Wilson’s war was cut) or many of the theater directors I’ve worked with would be remiss of me.
Nate: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, and keep up the great work Erick!
Podcasting Them Softly is proud to present a chat with feature film producer BILL GERBER. Bill has some huge credits under his belt — Clint Eastwood’s GRAN TORINO and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT are major feathers in his cap — and over the past 30 years he’s etched himself into the Hollywood landscape with a diverse background that includes work in the worlds of both film and music. Attracted to exciting material and excellent filmmakers, he spent time at the studio level working as an executive on both Oliver Stone’s JFK, Michael Mann’s HEAT, Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN and Curtis Hanson’s LA CONFIDENTIAL, before branching out as an independent producer with a first-look deal at Warner’s. Passionate, insightful, and beyond knowledgeable, we had a great time chatting with Bill, and we hope you enjoy!