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Bruce Robinson’s Jennifer 8

‘Darkness descends on a small town’, the tagline of Bruce Robinson’s Jennifer 8 warns us. No kidding, this is one rained out, bleakly lit, forbiddingly gloomy thriller. Although not without noticeable editing and pacing issues, I love it for the thick, nightmarish atmosphere it produces, the drab northwestern small town feel and a well rounded cast of leering character actors who all may be suspect in the harrowing central murder mystery. Andy Garcia is big city cop John Berlin, called in by his veteran detective buddy Freddy (Lance Henriksen, almost incapable of not stealing every scene) to investigate possible serial killer after a woman’s severed hand is found at the local dump. Talk about your rainy movie scenes, the part in the scrapyard seems like they set up sixty rain towers in a circle and ran them full blast for a deafening monsoon that almost drowns out the dialogue. From there on in it’s a murky whodunit populated by cops, reporters, coroners and and other skeleton crew occupants of this understaffed town, many of whom have skeletons of their own in the closet or just may be the killer. Clues lead to a young blind girl (Uma Thurman, radiant in one of her very first roles) who attracts the killer like moth to a flame, as well as Garcia who acts as guardian angel and love interest to her. I guessed who the murderer is way before the final twist, but that’s not to say it’s a dead giveaway or lazily written, I just have a knack for recognizing actors anywhere right down to the bit players and saw traits in a brief physical reveal, but the mystery is still decently shrouded and pretty much plays fair against scrutiny. Garcia, Henriksen and Thurman are supported by a thoroughbred roster including Paul Bates, Kathy Baker, Kevin Conway, Graham Beckel, Nicholas Love, Bob Gunton, Jonas Quastel and Twin Peak’s Lenny Von Dohlen as the local newspaper scribe. Oh yeah, and John Malkovich weirdly shows up out of the blue as some eccentric, obsessive Fed who has it in for Garcia and puts him through a hilariously faux intense interrogation monologue. Director Robinson (the famed Withnail & I) apparently only wrote and directed this one in hopes of whipping up a mainstream commercial hit to raise dough for more brooding artsy stuff, but the joke was on him because from what I hear, this royally tanked and even went direct to video across the pond. Well it ain’t a perfect film but I love it anyways, there’s too much eerie rural atmosphere and too many stalwart actors to write it off, it fits squarely in amongst my top serial killer mysteries.

-Nate Hill

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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

 

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.