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The Man behind The Dark Knight rises by Kent Hill

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How did this wonderful film slip through the cracks? There was little to no word about this utterly enthralling and compelling story about the ‘other’ man behind the bat.

I admit to you now – I was in the dark. While comics were a staple of my formative years, as that time receded, my interest had diminished to ‘casual’  by the early 2000’s. Even then I was far from what you would refer to an an aficionado. Comics were flame bursts in the dark. Most of mine were not pristine, and I collected them by the bundle when my Grandmother would take me along with her to the Book Exchange and allow me to parlay a stack of her used paperbacks for a pile of superhero awesomeness.

But, back to the topic at hand. I read comics without much regard for who created them (that attention to detail I reserved for my first obsession, the movies). I was there to indulge, pure and simple. Still, as our awareness grows, so do we seek out ever greater detail – the mechanics that make our preferred mode of escapism tick and thus our experience is enriched and the depths of our interest continue to descend into the pop culture sea that abounds, seemingly fathomless.

Such is the story brought to life by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce. Like the equally incredible Searching for Sugar Man before it, Batman & Bill traces the steps of the elusive Bill Finger – the man who, in case you didn’t know, co-created Batman with Bob Kane. And, like Sugar Man, the plot, which on the surface might seem to have a logical conclusion, just keeps unraveling as the real life seeker of justice, Marc Nobleman, tracks down and lets the sun shine brightly on the life, labors and legacy of Finger.

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Now I’m not going to spoil this at all. You must, must, must seek out this glorious unfolding of a sad, arduous, but ultimately triumphant saga which is predominantly about rewriting history, but at its heart there is a drum that beats and reminds us to stand tall in the face of adversity, and the film depicts this, in the form of the mammoth uphill battle to place Finger’s name next to Kane’s as a creative force behind one of the truly monolithic heroes from the realms of illustrated storytelling.

All I will say is that the end broke me up like Field of Dreams always manages to. Yes, strong men also cry, to quote The Big Lebowski, but you’ll walk away from this film ever changed and with a sense of pride having seen honor restored, a name reclaimed and a final note so satisfying it’ll touch your heart.

Read the book, see the film, and as for right now enjoy my chat with the extraordinary team who have captured beautifully this tale of a watchful protector who fought with a pen mightier than any sword to see the ‘other’ man behind the Dark Knight, rise…

 

https://www.hulu.com/press/show/batman-and-bill/

https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/1360261187749/batman-and-bill (for Aussie viewers only)

https://www.amazon.com/Bill-Boy-Wonder-Secret-Co-Creator/dp/1580892892

 

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THE ‘SHOWDOWN’ TRIPLE FEATURE by Kent Hill

This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .

Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.

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These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly,  died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.

The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.

For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky (The man on the rise), Matthias Hues (The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman (the veteran screenwriter).

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Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.

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Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

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Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.

 

 

 

THE RIDDLE OF STEEL with Matt Greenberg & Kent Hill

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Matt Greenberg returns, and after the most excellent first time round it was never a question of if, but when. Matt is, of course, not only a cool cat but a talented screenwriter (Reign of Fire, 1408). In our first interview (which you’ll find here: https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2017/01/13/writing-with-fire-an-interview-with-matthew-greenberg-by-kent-hill/) we discussed his career, the highs and lows – basically his adventures in the screen trade.

This time round I really had no plan, and I find that makes for the best interviews, cause, man, it can go anywhere. I love his unfiltered take on the epicenter of the film industry, his encounters with certain movie town luminaries, his hilarious CliffsNotes on the status of the latest cinema fodder, and his seeds of wisdom when we’re talking shop.

From possible titles for Meatloaf’s next album to O.J. Simpson, to the best idea I’ve ever heard for a reality TV series, Matt and I don’t just shoot the breeze, we gleefully fire and Uzi into the clear blue sky and I hope you’ll delight, as I do, with what hits the ground.

So for luck, for laughs, for the unknown, join us now, me and my mate Matt as we sit down again. And don’t worry – we also talk about movies…

KILL BILL VOLUME I – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

“How did you find me?”

“I’m the man.”

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When you strip away all the genre and sub-genre elements from Quentin Taraninto’s KILL BILL VOLUME 1, what lies beneath is a heart wrenching story of a woman seeking vengeance against a former lover who tried to kill her, her unborn child, and her fiance and the new life she constructed after she fled from him.

What we end up with, is the genius of Quentin Tarantino. This film is a full on culmination (obsession, even) of everything that is Quentin Tarantino. His obsession with actors, westerns, kung-fu, women’s feet, popular music; absolutely everything he loves is smeared all over the screen. A faceless David Carradine, a sly Michael Parks, the resurrection of Sonny Chiba, an iconically cool Michael Madsen are all acute aspects that support the greatness of this film.

Tarantino uses the camera to make love to his muse, Uma Thurman, constructing one of the fiercest alpha females to ever be on screen. She’s a woman on a one way mission. She is going to lay waste to everything her path, as she slowly crosses names off her hit list, until she gets to her former master and lover Bill.

KILL BILL is a lot of fun to watch – Tarantino’s homages from Sergio Leone to Brian De Palma, his love for all aspects of cinema is blatant. It’s not just that love for cinema that makes his films such an explosion, but it’s also his love for pop culture, comic books, and music that creates such a fertile pallet for his films to create themselves upon.

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The short anime segment, explaining Lucy Liu’s background is supremely emotional! Perhaps even more emotional than most give it credit for. It’s heartbreaking! The beauty of Sonny Chiba crafting and passing his sword over to Uma Thurman so she can progress on her mission of vengeance; and one of the best action sequences in modern film that achieves it all without any explosions, monsters, or superheroes is an enormous cinematic feat.

This film really hits the mark on every level. Cinematography, stunts, editing, costume design, production design, sound design, original music by RZA; every single corner of every single frame of this film is fleshed out in full detail. It truly is a marvel to watch. At the core of this film, apart from all the sheen and the cinematic perfection, Tarantino delivers us his most heartfelt and emotional film to date.

BEAUTIFUL GIRLS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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There is something about turning 30 that makes one re-evaluate their life. It is that time when you are forced to grow up, find direction, settle down, and become an adult. Beautiful Girls (1996) concerns a group of men faced with this dilemma. They have been living in the past and recent events have forced them to confront it head on. This is also the late director, Ted Demme’s best film in an all-too brief career. As he said in an interview at the time of the film’s release, “I don’t think there are too many movies about turning 30, or just about to turn 30. Those issues are whether to get married or not, whether to have kids or not, am I happy in my job, do I need to find another job, am I unsettled with myself. You’re not a teen anymore, and you don’t want to admit you’re an adult either.”

Willie (Timothy Hutton) returns to his small, Northeastern hometown for his ten-year high school reunion, hook up with buddies, and get his life in order. His mom has recently died (leaving his younger brother and father in a deep funk) and all of his friends are having relationship problems. Willie strikes up a friendship with a young girl named Marty (Natalie Portman) who has moved in next door. She is a character out of J.D. Salinger short story – wise beyond her years. Marty sets the tone for the rest of the women in the story. They are all intelligent and end up suffering with men who don’t appreciate what they have right in front of them.

Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg was living in Boston, waiting to see if Disney would use his script for Con Air (1997). “It was the worst winter ever in this small hometown. Snow plows were coming by, and I was just tired of writing these movies with people getting shot and killed. So I said, ‘There is more action going on in my hometown with my friends dealing with the fact that they can’t deal with turning 30 or with commitment’ – all that became Beautiful Girls.” The resulting screenplay turned out to be quite autobiographical, with Willie being Rosenberg’s surrogate.

The friendship between Willie and Marty pushes the boundaries of what is comfortable in a comfort movie but it never goes beyond it. Rosenberg’s screenplay is smart enough to be self-aware of this and even addresses it in a scene between Willie and his friend Mo (Noah Emmerich). Fortunately, the film narrowly avoids letting things get too uncomfortable and therefore taking us out of the captivating spell established by the movie. It also avoids clichés like the beautiful Andrea (Uma Thurman) having sex with one of the guys. Instead, she rebuffs them all because she is loyal to her boyfriend who, makes her martinis listens to Van Morrison and reads the newspaper with her on Sunday mornings – simple pleasures. She is not a perfect ideal, just on another level than these guys.

Rosenberg’s script is also able to juggle the various subplots without resorting to cliché resolutions. Tommy (Matt Dillon) is cheating on his girlfriend Sharon (Mira Sorvino) with his high school sweetheart (Lauren Holly). When he gets beat up by her husband (Sam Robards) and his buddies you anticipate Willie, Paul (Michael Rapaport) and Mo to mobilize and kick some ass but at the last second they stop because the man’s child will see her father get beaten up. This stops Mo who also has kids.

In addition to the clever plotting, Rosenberg’s script also features a lot of funny, memorable dialogue. Tommy chastises Paul for getting his on again-off again girlfriend, Jan (Martha Plimpton) a brown-colored diamond when he tells him, “Buddy, you been eating retard sandwiches.” There is also great throwaway dialogue like Stinky (Pruitt Taylor Vince) with his proprietor lingo, “We got apps!” or the often-used word “crease” to convey frustration at something, like when Tommy asks, “What’s got him creased?”

b2All of the guys in Beautiful Girls are essentially the same person. Willie is just finding his luck, Paul just lost his luck as the film begins, Tommy loses it over the course of the movie, and Mo has already found and achieved it with his family. Demme does not waste an opportunity to subtly illustrate his point. In one scene, he frames all three guys together: Paul (lost luck) is driving with Willie (finding luck) and Mo (achieved luck) along for the ride. The women counterpoint their men in this cycle: Tracy (Annabeth Gish) for Willie, Jan for Paul, Sharon for Tommy, and Sarah (Anne Bobby) for Mo.

The women in the film are smarter than the guys and make them (and us) feel like they are lucky that their behavior is even tolerated much less loved despite all of their failings. This is epitomized in Gina (Rosie O’Donnell)’s famous monologue where she chastises Tommy and Willie for obsessing over the women in Penthouse magazine. She tells them, “If you had an ounce of self-esteem, of self-worth, of self-confidence, you would realize that as trite as it may sound, beauty is truly skin-deep.” Gina speaks for the women in the film when she reminds the men to forget the airbrushed ideal of women that we see in magazines and movies. They do not exist or are unattainable to any normal guy.

To counter her argument, later on in the movie, Paul delivers a monologue defending men’s idealization for the impossibly perfect image of women. “She can make you feel high full of the single greatest commodity known to man – promise. Promise of a better day. Promise of a greater hope. Promise of a new tomorrow.” It is a rare, articulate moment for Paul, suggesting that he may be more than some lunkhead who drives a snowplow. He may actually be a romantic. It is nice to see a film that is obviously told from a man’s point of view trying to show both sides of the argument.

The women in the film are not treated like excess baggage. They all have a soul and a brain which is rare for a film written and directed by men. There is a tendency to make them perfect or marginalized with their problems defining them. This is not the case with Beautiful Girls. This is reversed and it is the problems that define the men.

Ted Demme assembled a fantastic cast of independent character actors for his movie: Michael Rapaport, Max Perlich, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Mira Sorvino to name only a few. They all work so well together and their friendships are believable because of the preparation the director made them do. He had the entire cast come to Minneapolis and live together for two to three weeks so that they could bond. One only has to watch a scene like Andrea’s first appearance in Stinky’s bar as Willie and his friends try desperately to impress her that the two week bonding session paid off. There is an ease and casual nature between everyone that is authentic.

The setting is a character unto itself. Demme has set his film in a charming east coast hamlet that is filled with little diners and bars that look so inviting that you want to go there, you want to be there. It all looks so comforting, so inviting and this is so hard to achieve properly in any film. He commented in an interview that he “wanted to make it look like it’s Anytown USA, primarily East Coast. And I also wanted it to feel like a real working class town.” To this end, Demme drew inspiration from Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978). “The first third of the film is really an amazing buddy movie with those five actors. You could tell they were best friends, but they all had stuff amongst them that was personal to each one of them.” Demme wanted to make Beautiful Girls more than just a buddy movie. When he read Rosenberg’s screenplay he told him, “‘You know, we really need to take this to another level.’ If I was ever going to make a buddy movie, which I never thought I would, I wanted to make sure it had some real depth to it.”

b3The film does not wrap everything up nice and neatly. Paul and Jan’s subplot is not resolved in the sense that we don’t know if they settle their differences and get back together. Tommy and Sharon will probably get back together but it is not spelled out. Instead, as the closing credits appear we are left to imagine what happens to the characters. It is Paul’s parting comments to Willie as he is about to go back to New York City, “Come and see us any time, Will. We’ll be right here where you left us. Nothing changes in the Ridge but the seasons.” This is also a message to the viewer as well. Come back and see Beautiful Girls again. The film’s world and its characters are comforting and making you want to revisit them again and again.

Top Ten Quentin Tarantino Characters: A Write Up by Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s career has been vividly defined by all the beloved qualities which we hold dear in film: visuality, music, dialogue, emotion, conflict and especially character. His films contain some of the most captivating, idiosyncratic and unique people to ever grace the screen, played by an incredible lineup of actors, some of which he would go on to use time and time again. Below you will find my personal top ten picks from the rogues gallery of individuals who have appeared in his stories. Please keep in mind these are characters from films he has both written and directed only, not just ones he has written. Enjoy, and if you do, please share!

10. Zed, played by Peter Greene in Pulp Fiction. 

  

      Greene refused this part multiple times, causing Tarantino to hunt him down like a dog and basically beg him to play the role. When the director has a face in mind for a role and won’t quit like that, you’d better believe he’s gonna make magic with it if he ever manages to sway the actor. He does, and so does Greene, an actor with a distinct, sinister look who plays the absolute hell out of the character, spinning a small supporting turn into one of the most terrifying movie villains ever, and certainly the scariest character in Tarantino’s career. Everyone’s favourite redneck rapist sheriff, Greene leaves quite the unsettling impression with his work. 

9. Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, played by. Michael Parks in Kill Bill, Grindhouse and From Dusk Till Dawn

  

Tarantino casted underrated acting chameleon Parks as this character several times, each appearance resulting in pure gold. My personal favourite has to his bit in Kill Bill Volume 1, where he’s called to the El Paso wedding chapel massacre. Parks can literally play any part thrown his way, be it melodramatic French Canadian drug runner, neo-nazi hit man or the laconic southwestern lawman archetype, which he nails down to the detailed mannerisms here. McGraw is a lynchpin of Tarantino lore and an absolute pleasure to see every time he pops up. 

8. Captain Koons, played by Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction

  

Walken balances weirdness and gravity like no other, often blurring the lines between the two to amusing and touching effect. When given what is perhaps the juiciest monologue ever written by Tarantino, Walken gives us a mesmerizing account of his time in the war, and his efforts to protect a coveted family heirloom which he then presents, with much ceremony, to a young Butch Coolidge. The film halts the momentum dead in its tracks to allow Walken to do his thing, completely off the leash and inhabiting his own special corner of the beloved film. He’s unforgettable, and makes a two minute appearance speak the volumes of eons.   

7. Bill, played by David Carradine in Kill Bill

 

There’s a scene in Kill Bill Volume 2 where Uma Thurman discovers Bill waiting for her outside the wedding chapel, playing his pan flute. There’s an epic passage of Morricone music, and he looks her dead in the eye. Upon reviewing a rough cut, Tarantino turned to Carradine and said “I think this is your best moment of the film.” Carradine’s response was, “Hell, I think it’s the best moment of my whole career!.” Bill is a mythic, titular antagonist who is built up no end for the duration of the films, the ultimate badass villain, and when the climax arrives in the eleventh hour, Tarantino writes an exodus for the character that is far more personal, emotional and grounded than I imagine anyone saw coming. It’s a gift to Carradine and fans alike, a villain with depth and purpose who exists in a surreal comic book world where the people couldn’t be more human or real. Carradine purrs his way through the role of his career and on into legend. 

6. Budd, played by Michael Madsen in Kill Bill

  

Tarantino brings out the best in Madsen, a purely charismatic dude who unfortunately makes a lot on unwatchable junky poo movies these days, squandering his obvious talent. This is is shining hour, playing Budd as a bitter backwater kid and younger sibling, nearing the end of his road and fermenting in bitter loneliness way out in the California desert. Madsen channels tough guys of the golden age as Budd, a rotten son of a bitch with a glint of humanity showing through his booze-dimmed eyes. 

5. Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds

  

Quite possibly the most entertaining villain in Tarantino’s work, due the the exuberant and absolutely committed performance of Waltz, in a trailblazing turn that would put him on the map in a big way. Beaming from ear to ear in almost every scene with a charming grin that dissipates occasionally, showing traces of the spider beneath, he’s a wonder in the role, a nazi A-hole rotten straight to the core. He doesn’t even possess any constitution or debt of faith in the cause which his smartly emblazoned SS uniform advertises; he’s in it for himself only, which is one more despicable quality to add to the list of traits one might use to define him. Perhaps the biggest Basterd of them all, and a joy to watch. 

4. Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta in Pulp Fiction

  

Pulp Fiction kickstarted Travolta’s career back into gear in a huge way, and it’s easy to see why as we watch his Elvis-esque slickster prance about the screen with effortless, heroin addled coolness and one hell of a dance sequence. His hair deserves its own spinoff film, he steals scenes by simply laying low and playing the dude with flair that never makes itself overly known. 

3. Mr. Blonde, payed by Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs

  

A stone cold psycho to the bone, Madsen relishes in brining this cop killing sadist to life, and dancing his way through one of the most iconic Tarantino scenes to date. Madsen has a rumbling threat to his work, a paced, portentous vibe that suggests the onset of a dangerous storm, but always seems to veer on the edge. With Mr. Blonde he crosses that line and shows us what a true madman looks like, without even raising his voice above a willowy growl. A class act in violent behaviour that laced with the blackest humour that we feel bad for laughing at. Mr. Blonde all the way. 

2. Jules Winnfield, played by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction

  

A rain of hellfire awaits any viewer who has the privilege of seeing Jackson bellow forth biblical fury in his first collaboration with Tarantino. He’s the life of the party in Pulp Fiction, an articulate, relentless loudmouth with a character arc that amusingly negates his belligerent nature and makes Jules all the more fascinating for it. Jack sonics at his most magnetic when he’s in Tarantino films, and this is mile zero, baby. Not for a second does the spark leave his eye, or the threat of violence evaporate from his wake. Criminals who ruminate on life, love and cunnilingus have become a goldmine for writers post Tarantino, and one which he only mined the first nuggets of. Jackson is ground zero for the character type, and fires it up in a way which none of us will ever forget. 

1. The Bride a.k.a. Beatrix Kiddo, played by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill

  

Tarantino’s muse has been Uma Thurman since the days of Pulp Fiction, and here he writes a titanic revenge epic in which the actress gets to bare her claws and sink her teeth into the single most affecting and arrest in female role that he has ever written, also forging the best, or at least my favourite performance from any actor or actress in his films. The Bride is the revenge archetype, an angry blonde angel forsaken by her lover and dead set on a bloody warpath. Tarantino isn’t above writing in moments of stirring emotion, including the final twenty minutes of Volume two which is Thurman’s showcase piece as an actress and an achingly appropriate send-off for The Bride, as well as the one which she deserves. 
Thanks for reading, more to come!