Tag Archives: Tom Cruise

The Puppet Master: An Interview with Kevin McTurk by Kent Hill

They say in the film business, never work with children or animals. Of course you may find yourself working with dinosaurs, aliens, lions, beast-people, scrunts, kothogas, ghosts, morlocks, Batman, Spiderman, Hellboy, kaijus, wolfmen, clones, cliffhangers, vampires, giant crocodiles, homicidal maniacs, killer sheep, Predators, cowboys and mysterious brides out to Kill Bill.

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But that’s just some of the astounding creations and magnificent beasts that Kevin McTurk has encountered in his eclectic career in the realms of special effects.

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Working under the banners of legends like Stan Winston, Jim Henson and the new titans like Weta Workshop, Kevin has had his hand in erecting and simulating everything from the real world as he has from empires extraordinary. And, while I could have spent the entirety of our chat talking about his adventures working on the countless films, which are favourites of mine, he has in his CV, his impressive effects background is only part of the story.

For Kevin McTurk is a bold and visionary filmmaker in his own right. His puppet films, The Narrative of Victor Karloch, The Mill at Calder’s End and now The (forthcoming) Haunted Swordsman are exercises in capturing a style from a bygone era with modern filmmaking techniques. The results are beautiful, not only in their aesthetic quality, but in the level of excellence from the many different disciplines on display.

There is still time for you to join Kevin in his latest cinematic offering (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/935772123/the-haunted-swordsman-a-ghost-story-puppet-film), and to listen in now to the man himself talk about his movies, influences and career.

I give you the talented Mr. McTurk.

Visit Kevin’s website for more: http://www.thespiritcabinet.com/

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Tony Scott’s Days Of Thunder 


The first ten minutes or so of Tony Scott’s Days Of Thunder should be used to demonstrate the power of any new home theatre/speaker/sound system freshly harvested from Best Buy. As it opens on a piping hot stock car race-track in the midst of noonday sun festivities and preparations for the day’s events, Hans Zimmer’s explosive, patriotic thunderbolt of a score kicks in and you feel that mad rush of adrenaline reserved for only the most combustible, rabidly entertaining movie magic. It’s just too bad that the rest of the film can’t keep up with the level of energy on display in that whopper of a prologue, despite doing it’s very best. An obvious sister film and coattail hugger of Scott’s other ‘loud noises’ film Top Gun, there ain’t much to it other than screaming race cars and a daredevil Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) trying to prove his sporting worth to various folks including the romantic interest, a doctor played by sexy Nicole Kidman and the sagely Yoda of stock car lore (Robert Duvall). He also has quite a few homoerotic run-ins with rival/partner Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker is certainly someone I’d tag with the adjective rowdy), and of course races a whole bunch of race cars as well as crashes a few. You gotta hand it to cinematographer Ward Russell, as it can’t be an easy task to do crisply capture those vehicular torpedoes as they careen by at a zillion miles per hour, let alone immortalize the afternoon sun glancing off the Wonderbread sponsor logos so beautifully. Like I said, after that initial banger of an opening credits sequence, its run of the mill in terms of story, albeit dynamite in terms of stunts. Watch for work from Randy Quaid, Cary Elwes, Fred Dalton Thompson, John C. Reilly and mega-producer Don Simpson in a neat extended cameo. The real magic happens with Zimmer’s score though, go check it out on YouTube, as iTunes only has some weak retread by some philharmonic orchestra schmucks. Quite possibly one of the maestro’s best works. 

-Nate Hill

Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion 


Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion is slightly flawed Sci-Fi heaven, a film that could have easily been perfect if it weren’t for a few snags, chief among them being over-length and lack of clear plotting. There’s so much going on in the realm of visual and auditory stimuli though that one can let oneself just get wrapped up in the pure music video style rhythm of it. Speaking of music, the film only really exists to serve the absolute banger of an electronic score from M83, a gorgeous album packed with sonic synths, beautiful thundering beats and celestial interludes complete with angelic vocals from Susanne Sundfor. Kosinski pulled a similar stunt with Tron: Legacy, hiring Daft Punk to whip up a soundtrack that outshines the actual film itself, and while that’s certainly the case with Oblivion as well, there’s much fun to be had in other aspects, particularly visually. Tom Cruise is Jack, steward and caretaker of a small piece of the earth’s surface after an alien ambush forced most of the human race to run off to one of Jupiter’s moons. Collecting data and doing routine scope checks on his sleek hover bike, he’s a curious fellow who begins to see the lapses in logic and believes there’s something else at play other than survival, a notion that his partner (Andrea Riseborough) and dispatch handler Sally (a sly Melissa Leo proves that one can still be effective when skyping in one’s performance). Jack is haunted by visions of a beautifully mysterious girl he’s never met (Olga Kurylenko) and pursued by dangerous surface dwelling scavengers led by Morgan Freeman and Jamie Lannister. The film’s story is a cool one indeed and has a whopper of a twist, but the pacing and exposition just can’t seem to get itself out of a slight muddle and impart these events to us in a clear, unhindered fashion, a kink that no doubt could have been worked out with a little more time spent in the editing room. The aesthetic production design is a wonder, calling to mind everything from Half Life 2 to Portal while retaining it’s own unique, modernized look (I want that glass sky pool/deck so bad). It’s all about that score though folks, and it’s an album for the ages, bringing to life a film that otherwise just wouldn’t have been as memorable. 

-Nate Hill

Conceptually Speaking: An Interview with Sylvain Despretz by Kent Hill

 

Sylvain Despretz really is the personification of honnête homme. And he has been a man of the world since an early age. Travel was a part of his life; the other constant being his love of the cinema.

He is an artist of great style and skill and after his schooling he worked as an art director for a top Madison Avenue agency then moved on to illustrating Graphic Novels in California under the mentoring of the internationally famed artist Moebius. From there he would set out upon what would become and astonishing career as a story board artist and conceptual designer.

 

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His work you’ll have seen, gracing the screen in a myriad of films in a variety of genres. Movies like Gladiator, Alien Resurrection, Panic Room, The Fountain, (Tim Burton’s) Planet of the Apes and The Fifth Element. These including work on Don’t tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and the coming Luc Besson sci-fi extravaganza: Valerian. He has worked with  and on films directed by the true masters of the screen including Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

But, as you will hear, Sylvain has become disenchanted by the current repetitive nature of Hollywood’s cookie-cutter output. He is now driven by the notion that the only way to usher in change, is to be part of a creative revolution that places an emphasis on original voices instead of corporate responsibility.

 

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To this end he is now embarking on a journey that will see him stepping away from the drawing board and moving behind the camera; bringing his own visions to life using that mysterious blending of industrial light and storytelling magic.

He is a learned Hollywood veteran who has seen the Dream Factory from the inside, and his stories and wealth of knowledge and experience was and is fascinating to experience.

The designer behind the scenes and the future man in the director’s chair, proud am I ladies and gentlemen to present this interview with the one and only, Sylvain Despretz.

VISIT SYLVAIN’S OFFICIAL SITE:

http://www.metaprogram.net/

SEAN STONE: An Interview with Kent Hill

Many of us can only imagine what it must be like to grow up in a household where one or both of our parents are people of extraordinary ability. We can only muse further what it must be like if that said parent were internationally recognized in their chosen field of expertise.

On the other hand, when we are young, we don’t really question such things. They are the ‘norm’, the everyday, and our parents are simply Mum and Dad. They do what they do and we are none the wiser. Then of course we reach an age when that changes. We realize that there are differences, and our worlds shrink or growth according to the depth of that perception.

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So imagine growing up and one day the realization hits that your Dad is the acclaimed filmmaker Oliver Stone; on top of that you have essentially grown up in the movies your father has been making. Now you were unaware to the extent of just how different things at home where compared to other people. But, it’s just how things were, and it’s just how things were for Sean Stone.

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Being on the set was normal because making movies is what Dad did for a living. These famous actors were simply people that were helping Dad out. It all seems fine that is till, as Sean told me, the world opens up and your understanding of that which you have been exposed to becomes evident.

Being a lover of the work of Sean’s dad, I, like the rest of you, have seen him as a baby on the lap of Gordon Gekko, as a young Jim Morrison, as the brother of an eventual mass murderer and more. He is now, however, a storyteller in his own right. Beginning with the chronicling of the making of Alexander, Sean has emerged as a naturally talented filmmaker. He has continued exploring the documentary as well as genre filmmaking, and I eagerly anticipate his intended adaptation of his father’s book A Child’s Night Dream.

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It was a real treat to chat with him at the dawn of 2017 . . . ladies and gentlemen, I give you . . . Sean Stone.

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Edge Of Tomorrow


-Nate Hill
Tom Cruise, dare I say, has been making really decent stuff these days, some of which is downright brilliant. Oblivion had its moments, carried on wings of an M83 score that was better than the film itself (hello Tron Legacy syndrome), Jack Reacher was solid badassery all round, but Edge Of Tomorrow is just pure class and could almost be considered an instant classic. I waited a long time to finally see it, because in most cases a pg-13 sci fi blockbuster starring Tom would be cause for me to cruise right on by in the Netflix/on demand lineup and pick something else. The reviews were uncommonly good though, and so I inevitably went for it. I’m sorry I waited, because it’s flat out spectacular. What makes it so? Well, it is everything I described above. A sci fi, blow ’em up blockbuster starring Tom Cruise, packed to the gills with action, aliens and stuffed with more Independence Day fireworks than you can shake a stick at. The catch? It has the plot, script and character development to match. This is one seriously thought out story, with heroes who don’t start off that way, conflict among the ranks of characters and genuine, honest to god arcs. You can hurl all the cash you want at a film and blow up as much shit as you can, but if you don’t have those core elements of story in place, and well so, you’ll end up with a hollow piece of vapid space garbage (like that Independence Day sequel). No, this one earns its stripes, opening up during a chaotic intergalactic war between humans and a formidable alien race, who are winning fast and stamping out any hope for our race. Cruise plays a weaselly military PR puppet who talks shit but has never seen a moment of actual combat, until he’s thrown directly into it by chance, with neither skills nor experience to keep him afloat. Stuck in a Groundhog Day esque time loop (I won’t spoil the how and why, but it’s a wicked smart premise that logically plays out), our coward gradually gains what it takes, day by day, to become a hero and save the planet. It takes a lot of dying and starting over though, each day beginning in the same fashion, the possibilities ripe for him to finally get that perfect round and win the day. Emily Blunt, that adorable badass, plays the most adorable badass thus far in her career, a resilient and vulnerable valkyrie who’s rage at the marauding fiends burns through terrifically, providing moments of grit, warmth and humour as needed. Bill Paxton plays a gung-ho military honcho with the same gee whiz charm that made Pvt. Hudson (Aliens, for you plebs) so memorable, and Brendan Gleeson does a third act encore as another General who takes a fair bit of convincing to get onboard with their plan. It’s so much fun you never want it to end, the high concept used for all it’s worth, supported by truly inspired creature design, detailed steam punk style weaponry and old school Hollywood fanfare rationed out in deliciously measured portions, resulting in that perfect recipe, an effects driven crowd pleaser with the brains to back it up. Who knew they could still make that? It’s a thing of beauty. 

THE COLOR OF MONEY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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The 1970s saw the rise of the Movie Brats, a collection of filmmakers that had grown up watching and studying films. They made challenging films that reflected the times in which they were made and were revered by cineastes as much as some of the actors appearing in them. Directors like William Friedkin, Francis Ford Coppola, Hal Ashby and Martin Scorsese made intensely personal films that blended a European sensibility with American genre films. However, the one-two punch of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) and the failure of expensive passion projects like New York, New York (1977) and Heaven’s Gate (1980) ended these directors’ influence and saw the rise of producers like Joel Silver, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and movie star-driven blockbusters in the 1980s and beyond. It got harder and harder for the Movie Brats to get their personal projects made. Most of them went the independent route, making films for smaller companies like Orion and doing the occasional paycheck gig with a Hollywood studio.

For years, Scorsese had been trying to fund a personal project of his own – an adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ. It was a tough sell and he ended up making After Hours (1985) and The Color of Money (1986) as a way of keeping busy while he tried to get Last Temptation made. At the time of The Color of Money much was made of it being Scorsese’s first movie star-driven film and some critics and fans of the director felt that he was selling out. It would not only be promoted as a film starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise (and not as a Scorsese film), but was a sequel (something that the director was never fond of doing) of sorts. Newman had been interested in reprising his famous role of “Fast” Eddie Felson from The Hustler (1961) for some time but he had never met the right person for the job – that is, until he met Scorsese.

The Color of Money begins twenty-five years after the events depicted in The Hustler and we find that Eddie (Newman) is enjoying a comfortable existence as a savvy liquor salesman with his bar owner girlfriend Janelle (Helen Shaver) and occasionally fronting a pool hustler. His current investment, a cocaine addict named Julian (played with just the right amount of sleazy arrogance by John Turturro), is getting roundly beaten by a young turk named Vincent (Tom Cruise) who catches Eddie’s attention with his “sledgehammer break.” He becomes fascinated watching Vincent play and his cocky behavior between shots, like how he works the table. Eddie also watches the dynamic between Vincent and his girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). What really catches his attention is not just Vincent’s raw talent but also his passion for the game. He’s even willing to play Julian after he’s won all of the guy’s money because he just wants his “best game.”

There’s a nice bit where Eddie tests Carmen’s skill as Vincent’s manager, exposing her lack of experience and schooling her on the basics of pool hustling in a beautifully written monologue by Richard Price that Newman nails with the ease of a seasoned pro. We get another healthy dose of Price’s authentic streetwise dialogue in the next scene where Eddie takes Vincent and Carmen out for dinner and continues to school his potential protégés: “If you got an area of excellence, you’re good at something, you’re the best at something, anything, then rich can be arranged. I mean rich can come fairly easy.” The scene is also nicely acted as Tom Cruise plays the cocky upstart with just the right amount of arrogant naiveté without being a typical goofball. As Eddie puts it, “You are a natural character. You’re an incredible flake,” but tells him that he can use that to hustle other players. The ex-pool player lays it all out for the young man: “Pool excellence is not about excellent pool. It’s about becoming something … You gotta be a student of human moves.” And in a nice bit he proves it by making a bet with them that he’ll leave with a woman at the bar. Of course, he knows her but it certainly proves his point. This is a wonderful scene that begins to flesh out Vincent and establish how much he and Carmen have to learn and how much Eddie has since The Hustler.

The young man is a real piece of work – brash, directionless but with raw talent. It is clear that Eddie sees much of his younger self in Vincent and decides to take the young man under his wing and teach him “pool excellence” by taking him and Carmen on the road. It’s an opportunity to make some money while also getting back Eddie’s passion for playing pool. The Color of Money proceeds to show the three of them on the road for six weeks, getting ready for an upcoming nine-ball tournament in Atlantic City. Of course, there are the predictable bumps in the road as Vincent’s impulsive knack for showing off costs them money and Eddie feels like the young man’s not listening to him. It’s a formula we’ve seen used in countless films but Scorsese does everything he can visually to keep things interesting, especially in the dynamic way he depicts the numerous games of pool, the use of music (for example, one game is scored to “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon) and the actors that play some of the opponents along the way, like a young Forest Whitaker as a skilled player that manages to hustle and beat Eddie at pool.

However, it is the camerawork by veteran cinematographer Michael Ballhaus that impresses the most. He and Scorsese depict each game differently, employing a variety of techniques, like quick snap zooms in and out, and floating the camera gracefully over the pool table or gliding around it. He even has the camera right on the pool table following the balls around. The camera movement and editing rhythm of each game is dictated by the mood and intensity of each match, like the grandiose techniques employed when Vincent shows off during a game of pool. As he revels in his own showboating moves, the camera spins around him as if intoxicated by his bravado. However, much like the chaotic pool hall brawl in Mean Streets (1973), the camera movement goes nowhere symbolizing the futility of Vincent’s actions. Sure, he beat the top guy at that pool hall but in doing so scared off an older player that had much more money.

While The Color of Money was made fairly early on in Tom Cruise’s career, his relative inexperience actually suits his character. His youthful energy mirrors Vincent’s. It is his job to come across as an arrogant flake of a human being, which he does quite well (too well for some who were unimpressed with his performance). Cruise has always been an actor that performs better surrounded by more talented and experienced people and with the likes of Paul Newman acting opposite him and Scorsese directing, it forces the young actor to raise his game. One imagines he learned a lot on the job much like Vincent does in the film. Scorsese knew exactly what he was doing when he cast Cruise and got a solid performance out of him. In the late ‘80s, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio acted in a series of high profile roles like The Abyss (1989), The January Man (1989) and this film. She’s given the thankless job of the girlfriend role but manages to make the most of it. One gets the feeling that Carmen is a fast learner and smarter than Vincent. She is much like Eddie in understanding the business side of pool hustling.

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Naturally, Newman owns the film, slipping effortlessly back into Eddie’s skin after more than 20 years and it’s like he never left. The scenes between him and Cruise are excellent as the headstrong Vincent bounces off of the world-weary Eddie. Over the course of the film something happens to the elder pool player. As he tells Vincent at one point, “I’m hungry again and you bled that back into me.” We see that youthful spark fire up in Eddie again after so many years dormant and Newman does a fantastic job conveying that. While many felt that his Academy Award for the performance he gives in The Color of Money was really a consolation prize for a career of brilliant performances, this does a disservice to just how good he is in this film and how enjoyable it is to watch him get to work with someone like Cruise and Scorsese, watching how their contrasting philosophies towards acting and filmmaking co-exist in this film. There is an energy and vitality that Cruise brings and Newman feeds off of it and Scorsese captures it like lightning in a bottle.

When Paul Newman read Walter Tevis’ sequel to The Hustler it made him wonder what “Fast” Eddie Felson would be doing now and wanted to revisit the character. He had seen Raging Bull (1980) and was so impressed by it that he wrote a letter to Scorsese complimenting him on such a fine piece of work. The director was just coming off of After Hours and was attached to several projects, including Dick Tracy, with Warren Beatty, a fantasy film entitled Winter’s Tale, Gershwin, with a screenplay written by Paul Schrader, and Wise Guy, a book about the New York mafia written by Nicholas Pileggi. However, they all took a backseat when Newman invited him to direct a sequel to The Hustler. The actor had been working on it for a year with a writer. Scorsese was interested but didn’t like the script Newman showed him because it was “a literal sequel. It was based on at least some familiarity with the original.” Scorsese felt like he couldn’t be involved with the project if he didn’t have some input on the original idea of the script.

Scorsese wanted to go in a different direction and brought in a new screenwriter, novelist Richard Price who had written The Wanderers and also a script for the director based on the film Night and the City (1950). Scorsese liked the script because it had “very good street sense and wonderful dialogue.” For The Color of Money, Price and Scorsese’s concept was basically what became the film, exploring the director’s preoccupation with redemption but with what Newman saw as “recapturing excellence, having been absent from it, and then witnessing it in somebody else.” Newman liked it and Price and Scorsese came up with an outline and began rewriting the script. Price studied pool players and wrote 80 pages of a script. They took it to Newman and got his input. By the end of nine months, Price and Scorsese decided to make the film with Newman.

For Scorsese this was the first time he had ever worked with a star of Newman’s magnitude. “I would go in and I’d see a thousand different movies in his face, images I had seen on that big screen when I was twelve years old. It makes an impression.” As a result, Scorsese and Price made the mistake of writing for themselves when they should have tailored the script to suit Newman and his image, or as Scorsese later said, “we were making a star vehicle movie.” The actor wanted to explore aging and the fear of losing his “pool excellence.” He also wanted the character of Minnesota Fats, played so memorably by Jackie Gleason in The Hustler, to return but Price couldn’t get the character to fit into the script. He and Scorsese even presented a version of the script with Fats in it to Gleason but he “felt it was an afterthought,” said Scorsese.

It was Newman that suggested Cruise for the role of Vincent to Scorsese. The young actor had met Newman before when auditioning to play his son in Harry & Son (1984). Scorsese cast Cruise before Top Gun (1986) had come out but he was a rising movie star thanks to Risky Business (1983). He had seen the young actor in All the Right Moves (1983) and liked him. The project was initially at 20th Century Fox but they didn’t like Price’s script and didn’t want to make it even with Cruise and Newman attached. Eventually, it went to Touchstone Pictures.

Newman was not fond of improvising on the set and suggested two weeks of rehearsals before filming. Scorsese wasn’t crazy about this and found them “aggravating. You are afraid that you are going to say ridiculous things, and the actors feel that way too.” However, he agreed to it and brought in Price so that he could make changes to the script. Fortunately, everyone felt secure in character and with each other. Price and Scorsese didn’t have the film’s ending resolved and felt that they had written themselves into a corner. The studio wanted them to shoot the film in Toronto but Scorsese felt that it was too clean and chose Chicago instead. Both Cruise and Newman did all their own pool playing with the former being taught how to do specific shots that he played in the film with the exception of one, which would have taken two additional days to learn and Scorsese didn’t want to spend the time. Cruise had dedicated himself to learning how to play pool: “All I had in my apartment was a bed and a pool table.” He worked with his trainer and the film’s pool consultant Mike Sigel for months before shooting started.

Some Scorsese fans marginalize The Color of Money as one of his paycheck films – the first he did for the money – and while it may not have the personal feel of a film like Taxi Driver (1976), it still has its merits, a strong picture that fits well into the man’s body of work. I would argue that it is one of his strongest films stylistically with some truly beautiful, often breathtaking camerawork capturing all the nuances of playing pool: the energy and vitality of the game is there without sacrificing any of the story or the characters. This film also shows how a director like Scorsese can take a hired gun project and make it his own. It looks, sounds and, most importantly, feels like one of his films and not a commercial studio picture. Others must have agreed as the film not only became Scorsese’s most financially successful film at the time but a critical hit as well.

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The director proved to the studios that he could deliver the goods at the box office while to himself he was still able to invest the film with some of his own personal touches. Ultimately, The Color of Money is about Eddie’s redemption and rekindling the spark he had in The Hustler before the screws were put to him. As with many sports movies, the story builds towards the climactic big game or, in the case of this film, the big tournament but Price’s script offers a slight twist in that Eddie’s victory is a hollow one and the real one is at the very end when his love for playing pool has finally come back completely. He is reinvigorated and excited about where his life and game will go from here and this is summed up beautiful in the film’s last line – “I’m back.”