The story of Al Leong is not an uncommon Hollywood story in this respect: he is a face you’ve seen, but probably have no knowledge of his name, his explosive talent, his devotion to his craft and the incredible legacy he has built through the movies we all cherish. So, if you fall into that category, then you probably don’t know the man behind the face of our favorite Henchman – you probably don’t know Al Leong…? Well ladies and boys…you’ve come to the movies at the most opportune time in cinema history, because, friendly neighborhood filmmaker and nice guy all-round, Vito Trabucco, has assembled for your inquisitive, movie-loving minds this beautifully human, lovingly detailed, star-studded valentine. That candy-chomping terrorist that decided taking on The Willis was a good idea; that screaming Wing Kong Hatchet Man in the service of the ancient evil of Lo Pan – and the man who very nearly conquered most of the known world of his day…and who loves Twinkies for the excellent sugar rush…!
Man I could write for days of the films, television and memories that have and still are the fabric formed of my love of storytelling…..of which Al Leong is an indelible part. Join us as Vito and I wax political, poetical and even romantically about the cinema that is part of the wonderful life . . . of our favorite Henchman…
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, over Men at Work and why can’t they make a sequel. While I feasted on potato chips nearly napping, suddenly there came a rapping, turns out it was Herbert West a-rapping, at my chamber door.
I just want to go on the record and say there are a handful acting dynamos out there that have enjoyed long and industrious careers. But then, there’s Jeffrey Combs. If you’ll forgive the crassness of a STEP BROTHERS fan (and Jeff, I mean this as a compliment mate), Mr Combs is the f#@king Catalina Wine Mixer of genre/character/genius actors. You need only to watch Sir Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners – nothing further your Honor.
But for right now let’s focus on NEVERMORE. The creators of the eleventh episode in the second season of Masters of Horror have brought their act to a literal theatre near you – but if you’re reading this outside of the US – sorry. Directing legend, Stuart Gordon (Space Truckers) and his (frequent) co-writer from “The Black Cat”Dennis Paoli (From Beyond) have created a vehicle which has brought to the stage a critically heralded experience that has delighted audiences for over a decade.
Hailed as “a landmark performance” by the L.A. Times, Combs has thrilled crowds across the country with his dynamic and revelatory portrayal of the legendary Poe.
This marks NEVERMORE’s Westchester County, NY, premiere, an event made extra special by the area’s bicentennial celebration of Washington Irving—a contemporary of Poe who was, from Poe’s perspective, also a rival. As Combs recalled in a recent River Journal article, “I don’t think they ever met. I take dark delight in pointing out that Poe doesn’t have very nice things to say about Irving. Specifically, about Irving’s penchant for always having a moral to his stories while Poe was often criticized for being without morals.”
SHIFF (The Sleepy Hollow Film Festival) celebrates the Hudson Valley’s wellspring of American history, of classic literature, and the continuing legacy of supernatural writings and cinematic works that it has inspired,” says festival co-founder Taylor White. “We’re excited to have NEVERMORE as part of the festival because it encapsulates so many of these ideas—not to mention it’s a fantastic show, at the perfect time of year, in the perfect venue. We can’t wait for the crowd to experience it!”
As Combs added in the River Journal, “Poe was truly one of America’s great writers. I’m honoured every time I step on stage and recite his beautiful words.”
SHIFF, a celebration of outstanding genre cinema in the cradle of the American supernatural, takes place in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, NY, October 10-13, 2019.
Finally, Jeff Combs was an absolute pleasure to chat with, his personality is as vivacious and extraordinary as the multitude of characters he has brought to our screens. If we had more time I would have really delved a great deal deeper – but, never being one to turn down opportunity when he comes a-rapping at my chamber door, I could not in good conscience turn down the chance to talk with one of the world’s most original performers. He’s still batting a thousand, I hope you’ll enjoy…
John Le Carré is an interesting author, and adaptations of his work in both film and television have proved to be some of the most fascinating and top quality work, whether lush and emotional (The Constant Gardener) or cold and labyrinthine (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). He’s firmly rooted in the spy genre but has no interest in things like action, chases, stunts or needless sex like another famous but frequently hollow espionage franchise I can think of. He traffics in brilliant character development, genuine intrigue and chessboard dialogue, all of which coalesce into palpably suspenseful stories that matter.
AMC’s miniseries adaptation of his novel The Night Manager is a fantastic piece of storytelling, meticulously orchestrated, wildly exciting, laced with pathos, danger and humour that has you laughing several scenes later. Tom Hiddleston gives what has to be his best work so far as Jonathan Pine, the night manager of a Cairo hotel who meets, falls in love with and witnesses the brutal murder of a mysterious girl (Aure Atika) with ties to the Egyptian mob. He discovers that the one responsible for this act, albeit indirectly, is billionaire British arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), who he doesn’t necessarily openly declare vengeance on, but we get that notion from his anguished eyes as he looks at her corpse. Years later he gets a chance to exact some sort of plan against Roper and his organization when a plucky rogue MI6 operative (Olivia Colman) shadow recruits him to go deep cover to finally nail this biggest of fishes. So begins a deep, devilish and diabolical game of cat, mouse and spy as he gets about as close as he can to Roper, infiltrates the inner circle and finds himself right in the eye of the arms smuggling hurricane.
Hiddleston was rumoured for Bond at one point but honestly I’m glad he opted for stuff like this, his reptilian smoulder harbours a keen intelligence that blossoms with scripts that have a bit of weight to them as opposed to one liners, one night stands and explosions. He makes Pine a creature of flesh and blood who isn’t incorruptible and struggles to keep his eyes on the endgame while getting caught up with moral distractions along the way, like the plight of Roper’s elegent beau (Elizabeth Debicki, a striking actress of immense talent and one to watch out for). Laurie makes wry, mottled work of Roper and I like the unconventional casting. He apparently had the same idea as I’ve heard they had to talk him into doing the role, but I’m glad they did because he makes deft work of this verbose, colourful international monster. Scene stealer Tom Hollander gets some priceless lines in as his right hand man, and the sensational cast includes work from Alastair Petrie, Tobias Menzies, Douglas Hodge, David Harewood and more.
I think I counted zero genuine action sequences in this, save for one that serves a very specific purpose. Much of the story is dialogue, glances, meetings, arrivals, departures, clandestine sting setups and character interaction. That might prove boring to some but really it’s the meat of any story, while action should be the sauce and not the main course. Here we care about Pine and his situation from minute one, to the point that the suspense is hair raising. Each character is vividly drawn and written, the world brought to life in dimension and detail by cast and director Suzanne Bier alike. Le Carré himself is also a champion of the end result, which is an achievement in itself. A brilliant piece of television.
Amazon Prime has sneakily started to put out some incredible original shows in the last few years, it’s really worth signing up (way cheaper than cluttered ass Netflix) to see the exciting directions they’re headed in. One such show is Goliath, which on the surface appears to be a slick, spotlight showcase for Billy Bob Thornton in another one of his now platinum alpha male loudmouth roles. It is that, to an extent, but it’s also a detailed, densely written mosaic of Los Angeles life viewed through a prism of classism, corruption, dishevelled family values and high powered corporate war games.
Thornton is Billy McBride, a disgraced lawyer who helped found the largest and most powerful mega-firm in LA only to be barred from it years later and left in exile. He mopes around in a cheap Santa Monica hotel, wanders the beach at night with bottle in hand and gives a local stray dog some love. This is until maybe the biggest lawsuit of his career yanks him out of bleary eyed entropy and pits him against not only his old firm but the largest high tech weapons manufacturing giant in the country. The show is aptly titled and works beautifully as an underdog story. Billy is low rent, works out of motel rooms and storage units, hires whoever will tolerate him and often prepares speeches and depositions over a high ball at the local dive. The firm is clean cut, ruthless, well researched and not afraid to get extremely dirty in protecting their powerful, scary client. Atop the skyscraper’s penthouse sits co founder Donald Cooperman, a bitter old Machiavellian lunatic played by William Hurt. Hurt embodies him like Harvey Dent crossed with a Bond villain, an eccentric asshole who coldly shunts his lawyers and clerks around the firm’s checker board and communicates with a paratrooper clicky thing, making every move he can to stonewall Billy’s case.
This is Thornton’s best role in years and he does get to do that patented snarky thing that every Bad Santa fan always cheers for, but McBride is also a well rounded, very human character rooted in backstory, fuelled by emotion and dynamic in his interaction and well guarded compassion for the people in his life. His law clerk is an escort girl (Tanya Raymonde), his ex wife (Maria Bello) works for Cooperman’s firm and his daughter (Diana Hopper) resents his wayward lifestyle but loves him unconditionally. There’s an eventual loyalty and tribal feel to his ragtag entourage that I picked up on and enjoyed a lot. They have casted this thing to the nines and picked unique actors for parts you wouldn’t have pictured them in too. Molly Parker is a right cunt as the firm’s lead shark, scene stealing like a pro and positively dripping acid in court. Olivia Thirlby nails the rookie just coming out of her shell, Nina Arianada is a sharp, foul mouthed go getter as a lawyer representing the family suing this firm, and watch for appearances from Jason Ritter, Brent Briscoe, Sarah Wynter, Dwight Yoakam, Damon Gupton and Harold Perrineau as a shrewd, no nonsense judge.
This is of course only a review of the first season, but on its own I can’t really think of anything wrong with it. It’s smartly written, emotionally relatable, super exciting and looks beautiful visually. It’s a story of redemption, one of the little guy standing up to essentially the biggest bully you can dream up and even has elements of family drama as well as thoughtful romance. Thornton and Hurt lead the herd like the pros they are, but everyone in their wake gives equally as powerful work. The locations feel authentic, lived in and detailed, considering they shot in the actual Santa Monica motel and bar that we see onscreen. This tale reaches seemingly mythic heights at times but never falters in catching the little moments, the gaps in between important plot establishing scenes that show characters simply interacting casually or chatting about their favourite movies. You don’t see that kind of care put in much, but damn it goes a long way. I’m somewhat apprehensive about season two after a reported writer switch up that garnered some nasty reviews across the board, but we’ll see. As it stands, season one is its own enclosed story, works spectacularly and I’m happy we got it. Highly recommended.
In season 1 of HBO’s True Detective, Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle observed that in a battle between light and dark, it looked to him as if the light appeared to be winning. The spectacular third season has has come to a close and without any spoilers it felt to me like that sentiment has never been more apparent in the series. The first story was a brilliantly existential gothic folk horror show gilded by unsettling conspiracies that went who knows how high up and permeated by the eerie, lived-in grottos of rural Louisiana. The second story was a brilliantly deep, dark, Byzantine labyrinth of California corruption, noir laced nihilism and fatalistic angst. The third story, no less phenomenal, sees a more intimate, emotional tale unfold against the mysterious backdrop of the Arkansas Ozarks, revolving around a crime the mechanizations of which gradually, steadily unfold in ways we both expect and also don’t. There’s a directness and fortitude to the story here where in the past seasons things could be a little more ambiguous and opaque, something I was fascinated by. Every season relies heavily on setting to make the case something you both remember and care about, from the sweaty bayous along the coast to the seedy industrial hum of Vinci. The Ozarks are considerably more picturesque with craggy mountains and thickets of boreal forest, but the atmosphere is no less portentous, the musical cues no less unnerving and the the clues embedded with no less regularity or tact.
One Arkansas evening, young Will and Julie Purcell (Lena McCarthy and Phoenix Elkin) disappear from their neighbourhood while riding bikes, prompting a statewide, decades long search that will go on to greatly affect the lives of everyone involved, especially those of the two lead detectives. Mahershala Ali is a pure sensation as Detective Wayne ‘Purple’ Hays, a haunted yet stalwart Viet Nam vet who can’t let the case go, Ali is a wonder whose eyes, physical mannerisms and tone of voice gravely and soulfully reflect a mystery that has entwined itself into his very essence. Stephen Dorff has been taking it easy for some years now, but casting him as gruff, take-no-shit Detective Roland West has proved a stroke of genius. Dorff has dimension and depth in the role, obstinately turning a somewhat second fiddle character into a complete scene stealer and fleshed out human being who is utterly compelling to watch and listen to. They are surrounded by a pitch perfect supporting cast that all turn in fantastic work. Scoot McNairy and Mamie Gummer are both knockouts as the parents of the missing children, underrated Carmen Ejogo gives a career best as Wayne’s wife and true crime author Amelia Hays, while captivating turns are observed from Brett Cullen, Michael Greyeyes, John Tenney, Ray Fisher, Steven Williams, Lauren Sweetser, Sarah Gadon and a welcome appearance from the legendary Michael Rooker.
‘Time takes everything but the truth’, we see emblazoned on the posters, something that goes from promotional slogan to sediment truth once we see how the show plays out in the unique fashion of three separate timelines unfolding simultaneously in a rhythmic dance that takes time getting used to but is such a fascinating way to tell this tale. We join our detectives in 1980 as the initial disappearance happens, in 1990 as the seemingly wrapped up case is reopened and again in 2015 when new facts come to light and the mystery approaches a conclusion that’s always just around the corner. Hays suffers from dementia in the third timeline and we see how this has affected his memory of the case, relationship to his family and his own familiarity with a psyche that is slowly fragmenting. Such a scattered trio of narratives could have proved too tough to fluidly impart, but there’s a remarkably steady hand in editing, direction and performance that makes the story as a whole, and each circling chapter really shine and come across clearly. Both time and memory are essential in not just understanding this story, but feeling your way through intuitively, because as Wayne’s mind starts to go, that in a sense is all he can do anymore in some instances. This is in many ways a departure from the two other seasons even though on the surface it appears to be very similar to the first. This i believe is a smokescreen of sorts and by every episode we see a unique story unfold that’s filled with secrets and explores obsession, heartbreak, violence, mental illness, the sad plight of Viet Nam vets, corruption, love, family, friendship and the darkness that ever dwells on the fringes of human society, always just a step outside our brightly lit towns, be it in a ghostly fog filled cave or mysterious grove of trees. A story worth telling, and a story worth hearing. Bring on season four please, I don’t see this hot streak stopping anytime soon.
It’s funny how the fates play their hand. Not long before I hand completed the interviews for this piece, I found I had been gifted the opportunity to interview Phillip Noyce, who happens to have directed BLIND FURY – a film that was both the inspiration behind and the film that came to mind when I first heard about Blindsided: The Game. And what a film! Walter is a seemingly unassuming guy who likes his peace and serenity – and his warm apple pie. His daily life, to the voyeur, would appear idyllic – that is until he decides to visit his local convenience store at the wrong time. A gang of stand-over men are looking for payment on a debt owed by the proprietor, and Walter’s friend. You know something is rotten in Denmark, and Walter looks as though he is the kinda guy to let sleeping dogs lie. No way! Like Josey Wales before him, Walter is the man, the hero who’ll always double back for a friend. That’s when the ACTION begins….
You might find yourself, as I did, waiting for something to happen. When Walter reveals his secret however, you’ll marvel and the grace, fluidity and devastating ability that the film’s hero has been keeping under his hat. The ensuing war which Walter wages with the movie’s antagonists is fierce – with a satisfying resolution.
I think the only thing I wasn’t happy about after watching Blindsided is that it ended – ’cause I, for one, wanted more. So it was an honor and a privilege to sit down with the filmmakers behind this veritable dynamo – this indie action gem waiting in the wings.
Blindsided: The Game pays homage to classic action films like Zatoichi and Blind Fury not only in its protagonist Walter, a blind swordsman, but also in that the film places heavy emphasis on storytelling combined with great action. This is no surprise with Clayton J. Barber in the director’s seat, who comes with over 20 years of experience as a stunt coordinator in Hollywood. Leading man Eric Jacobus plays Walter, a lovable cook who’s an expert gambler and swordsman. The character is the amalgamation of Jacobus’s 18-year career as a comedic action performer in the indie film arena. Director Clayton J. Barber is pushing the boundaries of modern action entertainment by bridging Hollywood with the indie action film world.
Barber notes that, “Eric Jacobus came from the indie action film realm. He was like a punk rocker of the action genre using raw film-making. We’re bridging these worlds together to create a totally new kind of action experience.” Jacobus echoes Barber’s sentiments: “Indie action guys have all the tools they need to showcase their skills, but the element of storytelling still has to be there. Clayton’s that storyteller who knows action. This is our Le Samurai.”
Barber and Jacobus aren’t the only stuntmen involved in Blindsided: The Game. The film features an ensemble of action stars and stunt performers both behind and in front of the camera. Roger Yuan, a veteran action star featured in action films such as Shanghai Noon and this year’s Accident Man, who plays the shopkeeper Gordon, also choreographed one of the film’s major fight scenes. Producer David William No (Altered Carbon from Netflix, and Matrix Reloaded) acts as a knife-wielding card shark and goes toe to toe with Jacobus in the climax. Veteran stunt performer Joe Bucaro (xXx, Iron Man) plays the ruthless gang leader Sal, Nicholas Verdi (Close Range, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) plays Nico and acted as director of photography, and Sal’s enforcer is played by Luke LaFontaine (Savage Dog, Master and Commander) who also served as the sword fight coordinator.
Production company, JB Productions, is dedicated to delivering strong storytelling and first-rate action, created by people who truly understand action. Barber says, “This is a new approach to action film-making. Blindsided: The Game is the perfect collaboration for us, and we hired great stunt performers to play the lead roles and even work behind the camera with us because we wanted to work with folks who knew action. That’s the brand people are buying into, and we’re always looking to build that brand by collaborating with talent both in America and overseas.” Jacobus and Barber previously collaborated on the hit short films Rope A Dope and Rope A Dope 2: Revenge of the Martial Arts Mafia. Blindsided: The Game is an expansion of the 2017 short film Blindsided, which was the first title under the Jacobus / Barber (JB) Productions banner. Blindsided was released to much acclaim, with fans craving a conclusion to the story. Blindsided: The Game replays the entirety of the original Blindsided and carries the story to completion, capping the film off at the length of a TV pilot.
Jacobus and Barber are confident that Blindsided: The Game will fulfil fans’ desires for a complete film. Blindsided: The Game will be free to stream on YouTube NOW!
Daniel Roebuck made me cry. That’s tough to do. There are certain films that have achieved this but they are few and far between. With Getting Grace, Roebuck has constructed a tale that is about that good thing, maybe the best of things. He has made a film about hope.
The story is that of a girl dying. Some might argue that such a plot easily accommodates the tear-jerking factor, but I don’t think that’s true. Field of Dreams is a movie that gets me every time, but I wouldn’t say that it sets itself up as a tear-jerker. In that movie’s case, the plot is more about listening to the voices inside us all and not allowing the inherent cynical nature of humanity to sidetrack us. It is also a story of redemption in the respect that a ghost, a former baseball player, helps the protagonist make peace with his father via love a of the game they both once shared.
In the case of Getting Grace, much like Disney’s Polyanna prior, it falls to a quirky yet luminous spirit of a young girl, staring at the end of her mortality and the optimism she evokes to cope with her fate to inspire, and in many ways redeem the broken characters that encircle her throughout the story. Both films deal with death, but reinforce that death is far from the end.
It’s a heart-warming tale that leaves you thinking about the preciousness and the fragility of our existence for a man of great faith. After all, to have endured in show business for the length of time Daniel Roebuck has – you need faith and hope in bundles.
It was an illuminating and thought-provoking discussion that I had with Daniel. He is a stalwart of the industry having worked in everything from big movies to indies, action films to animated efforts, and even mentoring other young actors as they struggle to make their ascent. Through it all he has retained a charming, positive presence that reflects in the enthusiasm with which he attacks his roles and now as he steps behind the camera to tell stories that enrich and enlighten.
It was as much a pleasure to talk with him as it is for me to present one of the nicest dudes . . . Daniel Roebuck.