Peter Hyam’s The Relic takes a smaller horror idea that usually services a low budget production and gives it the expensive, near blockbuster treatment. The result is a pretty damn fine creature feature flick that holds up better than it has any right too. When you’ve got a director like Hyams at the wheel though (see End Of Days), who is a meticulous perfectionist and often serves as DoP in addition to directing, you’re going to get class and durability all the way. Relic takes an ages old concept and injects wild screaming life into it; When an ancient artifact is brought from the South American jungle and stored at the Chicago museum of anthropology, trouble is not far off, for as we know in movie land, any ancient relic most definitely has a supernatural curse on it. Before too long a gigantic angry lizard thing from olden times awakens, tears through the building like the stampede from Jumanji and starts eating everyone it sees. It’s up to heroic police detective Vincent D’Agosta (Tom Sizemore in a rare lead role) and professor Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller, what ever happened to her?) to use their wits and survive long enough to defeat it. Linda Hunt, that sweet little munchkin, also has a nice role as the museum director. The film is just pure fun to watch, a solid popcorn banger that has the look and feel of an old school adventure film, or something by Stephen Sommers, albeit with a healthy helping of slimy gore. The creature is truly immense, and one feels the scope of it’s rampage as Hyam’s camera arcs through the vast hallways and mezzanines of the building, following the action in crisp, tactile strokes. Sort of a forgotten gem, but one that’s always fun to check out.
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.
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/
I will sing the praises for Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers til the day I either die, am too dementia ridden to compile a coherent review or too arthritic to type anymore (you folks will get some peace and quiet on your social media once any or all of the above happens). This film is less a film than it is a writhing elemental force, a cinematic being brought to life by tools seldom used in Hollywood, namely the sheer audacity of Stone’s frenetic filmmaking style. The MPAA kept an R rating just out of his reach for a while before finally conceding, harping to him that though he cut violent bits here and there to make it semantically tamer, it was the general aura of chaotic madness that irked them so. Stone considers this a compliment, and well he should, for its not everyday that an artist so fluidly taps into the artery of violence and the many catalysts of it in such a primal, intangible way that brilliantly splices what compels us with what appalls is, and the scarily thin line that wavers between them. This film is many things: a psychedelic road flick, a blistering indictment of sensationalist American media and the decaying degeneracy it breeds, a hallucinatory mood piece, a severely expressionistic action film, a thriller, a chiller and the list goes on, but more important than all of those is the love story that ties it all together. Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson are sticks of poisoned dynamite as Mickey and Mallory Knox, two twisted up kids on the run from everyone and everything, products of the darkest bowers of bizarro world Americana, deeply scarred by their pasts, fully committed to the wanton murder spree they’ve engaged in and unapologetic about the wave of carnage they’ve left in their wake. Demonized at every turn by the powers that be and everyone else in between, it’s easy to see why a system feeds two sick souls like this with infamy and notoriety instead of helping them. Anything for that big ol’ dollar sign, or simply whatever fills the void. We see the sickness creep after them, ever present in creatures like Tommy Lee Jones’s fire and brimstone prison warden, Robert Downey Jr.’s manic, sickening enabler of a talk show host and Tom Sizemore’s psychotic, gung-ho detective Jack Scagnetti. There’s a saying out there that goes “animals are beasts, but men are monsters, a sentiment that Stone has taken and run right off the cliff with, blasting us in the face with humanity’s very worst for a solid two hours, until he’s damn sure we catch his drift. The film is a stylistic tornado, every kind of colour, lens, filter, soundscape, visual trick and style of editing used until we realize we’re watching something truly unlike anything before, and likely after as well. Mallory’s backstory is staged in a stinging sitcom format as she’s terrorized by her abusive father (Rodney Dangerfield, cast grotesquely against type). Mickey breaks out of prison in black and white Lone Ranger style. A drug store Mexican standoff is painted with swaths of neon vomit green. Shadowy title cards and striking lighting are used in a sequence where the pair visit the lonely desert hut of a prophetic Indian (Russell Means). Visions dance on walls like spectral tv screens, faces leer and loom out of shadows for no apparent reason other than to add to the beautiful commotion, characters skitter through frames looking for a moment like demons. There is no other film like this, no other experience rather, an animalistic treatise on primal human urges, societal constraints that bind them, loosely and laughably out of place when you consider the dark urges within everyone. Amidst all this chaos though, like two corrupted beacons, are Mickey and Mallory. This is their story, and despite being a chief cause of the chaos I just mentioned (the universe has a sense of irony), it’s a love story, they being the centrepiece and everyone else rushing past like dark passengers in a swirling sideshow to their main-tent event. They’re brutal serial killers, no question, but they’re tender and caring with each other, and we see hints at a collective sweet disposition hiding below all those years of built up scar tissue. It’s a gorgeous film, full of scream-at-the-heavens ugliness, imagery that burns a patchwork quilt of impressions straight into your soul, an angry satirical edge that cuts like a knife and so much overflowing style you could watch the thing a thousand times and still pick up on things you never saw before. From the first cacophonous diner slaughterhouse set piece, to the second half of the film that descends into a regular Dante’s Inferno of a prison riot, this film is truly something else, in my top ten of all time and a uniquely affecting experience that has shaped the way I’ve watched films ever since. Plus that soundtrack man.. the story is set to every kind of music out there including Trent Reznor, Lou Reed, Patsy Kline, Peter Gabriel, Dre, Mozart, Marilyn Manson and so many more, with a pair of perfectly nailed opening and closing numbers warbled by Leonard Cohen. Everyone and anyone has quick bits and cameos to support the titanic work of the main cast too, including Denis Leary, Ashley Judd, Arliss Howard, O Lan Jones, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jared Harris, Mark Harmon, Balthazar Getty, Marshall Bell, Louis Lombardi, Steven Wright, Rachel Ticotin, James Gammon and more. What more can be said about this film? It’s a natural born classic.
As much as it pains me to say it, I’m a die hard fan of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. It doesn’t pain me because of the backlash I get for praising it or anything, I could give a possum’s rectum what people think of my film taste, but the fact remains that I am well aware of how ridiculously dumb the love triangle at the centre of this film is, and yet I’m a sucker every time. Every other aspect of it is actually very well done, but it’s attempts to be a historical epic that uses a love story as its lynchpin are sorely misguided. Worse is the fact that I know all this to be true, yet I still get misty eyed as the heavy handed schoolyard fling between Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale plays out, and further lunge for the Kleenex box as Josh Hartnett enters the picture to drive a Bruckheimer sized wedge between them. So what’s my problem, you ask? No clue, other than being a hopeless romantic whose brain flatlines at the first hint of a soppy sideshow. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk about the two things that make this film work really well: the deafening, thunderous recreation of the Japanese attack on Hawaii, and the jaw dropping cast of actors on display here. All wildlife was cleared from the harbour area prior to filming, and legions of period authentic boats and planes were shipped in to make this one of the most ambitious cinematic versions of a siege ever assembled. When the ambush starts, we feel every percussive blast and fiery crash as the US army/navy forces are taken completely by surprise, foxholes and sadly decimated by a cunning Japanese armada. When the fog of the first wave clears, we see the carnage left in its wake and feel the sheer desperate urgency of nurses and medics as they race to collect and treat the wounded, a well staged yet heartbreaking sequence. Hans Zimmer gives it his all to accompany all of this too, my favourite strain called ‘Tennessee’ opening the film with a prologue involving young Affleck and Hartnett, with a moving cameo from William Fichtner. Speaking of the cast, it’s unbelievable, and I’ve always considered this to be the sister film to Black Hawk Down, purely for the amount of actors who appear in both. Alec Baldwin scores grit points as a salty veteran heading up the eventual counter attack, Cuba Gooding Jr. is most excellent as a navy cook turned war hero, Tom Sizemore kicks ass as a plane mechanic who grabs a shotgun when the shit gets heavy, Jennifer Garner, Jaime King and more show resilience and compassion as nurses who step up when needed most, Jon Voight is stubborn and stoic as Teddy Roosevelt himself, Dan Akroyd brings salty wit to a military analyst, Mako is noble and reluctant as the Japanese commander, Scott Wilson is quietly diligent as infamous General George C. Marshall, and the list just goes on with vivid work from Kim Coates, Ewen Bremmer, Leland Orser, Glenn Moreshower, William Lee Scott, Michael Shannon, Cary Tagawa, Matthew Davis, Colm Feore, Sean Gunn, Graham Beckel, Tomas Arana, Sung Kang, Eric Christian Olsen, Tony Curran and more. Say what you want about this one, many loathe it (just ask Trey Parker & Matt Stone), but there’s no denying its scope, ambition and technical undertaking. Also it just has an exquisite love story to rival that of Gone With The Wind and Titanic. Haaaa… just kidding. Or am I? 😉
When I first discovered David Lynch’s Twin Peaks some ten years ago, I was hooked from that first lilting chord of the opening theme, a Pacific Northwest lullaby that dreamily pulled back a red curtain to reveal the mesmerizing realm of sawmills, Douglas firs, cherry pie, secrets, metaphysics, owls, murder mysteries, eccentricities, FBI Agents, roadside diners and so much more. There was nothing quite like it under the sun. Lynch had tapped into the intangible flavour in the ice cream parlour, an undefinable conduit to the subconscious, an emotional fever dream of haunting music, beautiful storytelling and vivid, compelling character arcs, and I knew from that moment on I’d be living in this world, in whatever capacity, for the rest of my life. Since then I’ve seen the entire run of seasons one and two at least thirty to forty times, and watched Fire Walk With Me, Lynch’s big screen masterpiece and companion song to the show, even more. Twin Peaks is the one thing I can revisit at any crux of the story, during any phase of my life, and it will always draw me right back in like the beckoning grove of sycamore trees who stand as sentinels to the great beyond lying just around the bend in the woods. There was just one problem with it all: the show was tragically cancelled on the penultimate beat, a cosmic cliffhanger that left fans reeling and plunged the legacy into exile for decades, a vacuum left in air that once housed a worldwide phenomenon, which is the only way to describe what season one did not just for television, but for the arts themselves, a thunderous ripple effect that has inspired generations of fan culture and adoration. To quote another film that finds its home in the trees, “If you ride like lightening, you’re going to crash like thunder”, which in a way is what happened to Twin Peaks. That lightening was captured in a bottle, which unfortunately shattered to shards via a combination of network interference and creative differences. Needless to say, the thought of a possible return to the show was beyond low on my list of things that could happen, right down there next to dinosaur cloning. Life finds a way though, and so apparently does Lynch. When it was announced that he had struck a deal with Showtime for an epic eighteen episode return to those Douglas firs, the internet nearly imploded upon itself. The golden age of television had just gone platinum, for Twin Peaks is the cornerstone of a generation of storytelling, a mile marker of stylistic structure and expression that gave life to countless other legacies in its wake. If any fragmented, incomplete tale deserves another day in court, it’s Peaks. For a while we sat on our hands and held our breath, the words ‘too good to be true’ ringing around in our heads. After a few hitches in the giddyup, however, and some three years of development later, we have arrived on the day that the new season premieres, and it still hasn’t set in for me. Eighteen brand new episodes. All written and directed by the man himself. A titanic sized cast of Twin Peaks residents both old and new, from every walk of Hollywood, genre town, music world and indie-ville. It definitely does seem to good to be true, and yet here we are, on the eve of a television paradigm shift. Any new fans who have hurriedly made their way through the original series run for the first time should pause for a moment and realize just how infinitely lucky we are to get this, how special this truly is, and will be for the entire summer. I feel as though this will be the second wave of Lynch’s magnum opus, a stroke of creative brilliance that has come full circle, and in just a few hours time those beloved chords will once again flow out from our television screens, as the journey continues onward to a destination whose coordinates Lynch guards like Pandora’s Box. Come what may, I will be tuned in to whatever the man and his team of actors, artists and musicians have in store for us. See you in the trees.
Paparazzi is one of those ones that probably sounded pretty silly on paper, but one of the studio execs had a good sense of humour on a morning after getting laid and said “aw hell, green light this just for kicks.” It doesn’t hurt to have Mel Gibson as a producer either, who also makes the teensiest cameo. The concept is simple: action film star Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is harassed by a sleazy hyena pack of determined celebrity photographers, until they take it one step too far, resulting in tragedy. Bo then plays the art imitating life card, goes all vigilante on them and quite literally hunts each one down and kills them. A synopsis like that has to illicit a dark chuckle from anyone who reads it, and you’d think the resulting film would be oodles of fun, but they’ve somewhat played it safe. A concept this ridiculous should be over the top, reach for the stars insane, a hard R black comedy Death Wish set in Hollywood, if you will. What we get is something more on the glossy side, the filmmakers dipping their toe into the pond of potential, yet never saying ‘fuck it’ and diving right in. The paparazzos are played to the heights of hilarity by a solid scumbag troupe: Tom Sizemore is so perfect as their a-hole ringleader, just a dime piece of a casting choice. Daniel Baldwin looks seriously haggard, while Tom Hollander and Kevin ‘Wainegro’ Gage round out this quartet. Dennis Farina is fun as a sharp, shrewd Detective who gets wise to Bo’s act as well. It’s all serviceable, and yet I wish it went that extra mile to give us something downright shocking and memorable. Perhaps they should have reworked the script, brought in a wild card director and gone the indie route. Oh well.
The sad thing about HBO original films is that they air pretty quick and without notice, then are scarcely heard from again, despite having really good stories and production design to boast, with no theatrical crowd to ever share them with. Witness Protection is one among many of these, a brilliant, surprisingly thoughtful mobster melodrama starring Tom Sizemore in a rare and commanding lead role. He plays Boston area gangster Bobby ‘Bats’ Batton here, a wiseguy who gets a rude awakening one night when a violent attempt is made on his life by rival crime factions, striking at home while his family are there. His lifestyle has inadvertently put those he loves in danger and now there are consequences, as grimly outlined by Forest Whitaker’s sympathetic FBI agent. Bobby, his wife (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is so great, why isn’t she in stuff anymore?), son (Shawn Hatosy) and young daughter (Sky McCole Bartusiak, who famously died young a few years ago) are relocated into the witness protection program run by the Feds, given new identities, their lives uprooted and their future uncertain. Now, I searched for this film for years (it’s near impossible to find) thinking there’d be some kind of actuon intrigue angle, a few gunfights as his enemies tracked him down, but such is not the case. This is a mature film, a meditation on what it takes to change who we are when our choices endanger the lives of those we are supposed to protect. Bobby is a man of violence who grew up in a certain way, and he has transformed that into his livelihood. But it’s also a risky creed to cling to, and eventually a line is crossed, the line between balancing a chaotic life, or letting it run away from you. He’s forced to change, to show honesty and the will power to go straight, and this causes intense strain on the relationships with each of his family members, both individually and as a group. It’s equal parts fascinating, heartbreaking and hopeful to see a family go from one extreme to the other, and every facet of the situation is explored in a script that feels authentic and unforced. Sizemore and Mastrantonio deliver powerhouse work that stuns and stings, inhabiting uncomfortable moments of personal anguish with gravity to spare. This one isn’t your typical crime drama, and is all the better for it.