Tag Archives: William Atherton

Richard Pearce’s No Mercy

Richard Pearce’s No Mercy is essentially a formula cop/revenge flick with all the recognizable elements visible, but it’s done so damn well that any generic beats don’t even really matter when you’re treated to atmosphere, action and chemistry this good. Richard Gere is an actor who gets cast as the affluent business guy or clean cut hero often, but he’s most effective when they let him fly his freak flag a bit and show some edge, he’s scary here as an unhinged Chicago detective out to avenge the savage murder of his partner following a botched sting operation that wasn’t even sanctioned to begin with. He’s led from the grey urban sprawl of the Windy City to sweaty, jazz soaked backroads of New Orleans in pursuit of a really nasty local kingpin (Jeroen Krabbe) responsible for the bloodshed. There’s naturally a blonde bombshell (Kim Basinger) who belongs to this monster since she was sold to him at age thirteen, and naturally sparks fly between the two as they fall in love amidst a rain of bullets, standoffs, chases and shootouts. You might be rolling your eyes and I’ll admit that the plot is well trodden soil but honestly this thing is so well made and engaging I didn’t care that I knew how it would all turn out because after all, the fun is in the journey there. Gere and Basinger have a natural rapport that isn’t rushed or forced and for a good two thirds of the film they hate each other in realistic fashion so that when passion eventually ignites it feels warranted. Plus the romance is so secondary to them simply meeting as two people that it never feels silly nor soppy and there’s somehow something sexier about her teaching him how to eat crawfish than the two of them actually getting it on. Gere is a live wire here, out of his element in the Bayou but determined to avenge his partner’s at any cost, including his own life. “If I die it’ll be on Chicago concrete!” He barks stubbornly, and we believe it. Basinger always brings a wounded nature to her work, she’s fantastic here as someone he believes to be a planted seductress until he learns that she’s just another victim. There’s a painful scene where she has to sign a lawyers form and when the attorney (perennial 80’s asshole William Atherton) announces that she can’t read, you can see the sympathy unclouded on Gere’s face. Sparks fly between these two and I’d love to see their other collaboration Final Analysis at some point. George Dzunda makes a fiery appearance as Gere’s wrecking ball of a precinct captain, a dude with a thousand yard glare who’s standing less than a foot from you. Alan Silvestri outdoes himself with a smokehouse of a score that accents Louisiana nicely and cues Krabbe’s bad guy in creepy fashion. This dude is one nasty piece of work, and the character can be forgiven for being one-note simply for how scary he is, a greasy haired, sadistic French bastard who enjoys gutting people with a knife and lords over the Bayou with a reign of ice terror. I’m not sure why this has amassed such a lukewarm overall reaction. It’s nothing innovative but everything it tries to do it does excellently. Stylish, immersive romantic crime thriller with a hot blooded central romance, well staged action scenes and atmosphere to spare.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2

Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2 trades in the Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper for a giant 747, which is basically just a skyscraper barrelling through the air anyways, but it also expands action from the one location concept to a sprawling, chaotic LAX airport during the Christmas Eve rush. Bruce Willis returns as eternally exasperated underdog cop John McClane, whose wife (Bonnie Bedelia) is stranded on said aircraft while a severely violent band of terrorists clutters up the whole thing and makes it impossible for them to land. While not blessed with the malicious exuberance of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, Harlin finds a steely replacement in William Sadler’s Colonel Stuart, the sociopathic, seriously scary dude in charge of the hostile takeover who has no reluctance in shooting his own guys just for fun. Franco Nero is the foreign dictator whose imprisonment ties into the airport fiasco, while the villains provide intense early career work for cool actors like Don Harvey, John Leguizamo and Robert Patrick. There’s something so relatable about McClane, Willis plays him as an everyday joe who is constantly second guessed by people way dumber than him and sort of has to go it alone based on the sheer level of incompetence he’s surrounded by, especially that of an ignoramus cop (Dennis Franz) who has it in for him big time. The action here is top tier, from the big bucks spent on the plane antics hundreds of feet above to the shootouts, explosions and combat thundering through LAX. Gotta give a special shout out to these terrorists, they possess a sadism and ruthless edge that is impressive even by franchise standards. I love this film, I think it’s every bit the worthy sequel and on the same level as the first.

-Nate Hill

Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

Roger Ebert made it clear that Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie doesn’t even make it into his most hated canon of flicks (a hard enclosure to gain access to as the guy was a pretty fair critic right to the end). A small part of me sees the exasperation in a guy who took his cinema seriously. But most of me, especially the parts that enjoy humour so off the wall and bizarre that I’d be labelled just as far on the spectrum as the two demented wunderkinds behind this ninety minute freak show, loves it. You have to be a special kind of deranged to enjoy Tim and Eric’s brand of humour; the words abstract, surreal and extremely bizarre come to mind, but that doesn’t begin to cover the maniacal parade they’ve whipped up here. One thing does fascinate me though: since the very beginning when they first got their show rolling (Great Job!), they have been a magnet for some of the most prominent and prolific talent in Hollywood’s comedy arena, scoring cameos from the likes of Will Ferrell, Jeff Goldblum, John C. Reilly and more. That tells me that a lot more folks than you might think have an innate affinity for this extreme brand of shock humour and madness than would care to admit, and that when it comes down to it, humans organically produce their own humour in this weird, abstract fashion that’s much more natural than most scripted, constructed comedy we see in film. The humour here is so far into the stratosphere of weirdness that it understandably made a lot of folks uncomfortable, but that just makes the whole thing funnier. The ‘plot’ is just a series of running gags loosely connected by Tim & Eric owing a billion dollars to the Schlaaaaang Corporation (run by William Atherton and Robert Loggia in one of his last movie roles). They skip town and decide to take up Will Ferrell on his offer to be caretakers of a giant dilapidated shopping mall, after a few back to back viewings of Top Gun. The mall is host to a whole array of weirdos and insane people including slightly retarded Taquito (John C. Reilly), snarky sword salesman Allen Bishopman (Will Forte), a man who sells used toilet paper, Bob Ross, a bunch of hobos, oh and a wolf too, among others. Don’t expect it to make much sense, that’s not the Tim and Eric way. Just expect to be shocked, disgusted, disoriented, appalled, and if you’re tuned into the right frequency, to laugh your ass off. Their outright deliberation in pushing boundaries of taste and coherency no doubt had people running from the theatre and demanding money back in droves, but as Mia Wallace iconically put it, don’t be a 🔲. The real endurance test is when Ray Wise (Twin Peak’s Leland Palmer) shows up as a nutso self help guru whose brand of treatment (Shrim!) really goes to some gag-worthy places. Other notable cameos include Jeff Goldblum as (wait for it) ‘Chef Goldblum’, Johnny Depp, Zach Galifianakis, Mark Cuban and Bob Odenkirk. It’s a weird world, and in a genre that routinely isn’t weird enough, plays it safe and sticks to the often bland script, we need guys like Tim and Eric to shake shit up, open their bag of tricks and assault audiences with their very specific, certifiable brand of comedy. Buckle up.

-Nate Hill

The Crow: Salvation 


Now let’s be real, there’s only one good Crow film. They were just never able to catch that midnight magic again, though they tried, with four more films and a dud of a tv series. Each of the sequels is nearly the exact same as the first, in terms of plot: a man is killed by feral urban thugs, only to be resurrected one year later by a mysterious crow, blessed with invincibility and begins to work his way through the merry band of scumbags in brutal acts of revenge, arriving at the crime lord sitting atop the food chain, usually a freak with vague ties to the supernatural or occult. All the films in the series are structured that way, but only one deviated and tried something slightly different with the formula. City of Angels, the second, is a boring, almost identical retread of the first, it’s only energy coming from a coked up Iggy Pop. Wicked Prayer, the fourth, had a premise with potential aplenty, and turned out so maddeningly awful I’m still dabbing the blood from my eye sockets. Salvation, however, is the third entry and almost finds new air to breathe by altering the premise slightly. Instead of lowlife criminals, it’s a posse of corrupt police detectives who frame an innocent dude (Resident Evil’s Eric Mabius) for crimes they themselves committed, fry him to a crisp in the electric chair and get off scott free. His girlfriend (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) is also killed in the process. Now, not only is it cops instead of criminals, but the arch baddie at the top of the pile is the police commissioner, who has occult written all over him. *Not only* that, but he’s played by Fred Ward, who is brilliant in anything. While nowhere near an iota of the atmosphere or quality of the first film, this one works better than any of the other sequels, thanks to that spark of an idea that changes the game ever so much. The detectives are a nice and skeevy bunch too, played by the reptilian likes of William Atherton, Walton Goggins and others. Ward wears the starched, proper uniform of an authoritative figure, but his eyes gleam with the same secrets and dark magic we saw in the two other previous underworld kingpins, Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) and Judah Earl (Richard Brooks), but it’s that contrast that takes you off guard and makes things more intriguing. And as for Eric, does he hold his own with the others who’ve played the role? Mabius he does, Mabius he doesn’t, you’ll just have to watch and see. He definitely knocks Vincent Perez out of the park, that silly Frenchman. Real talk though, no one will ever dethrone Brandon Lee, not even whatever piss-ant they get for the remake that’s been hovering on the fringes of preproduction for the last half decade. On top of it all we also get Kirsten Dunst, of all people, as a sympathetic attorney who works alongside Mabius to clear his name, as he clears the streets of no-good crooked cops. So there you have it. If you ever find yourself meandering around the kiosks in blockbuster, and see the Crow films lined up on the shelves like emo ducks in a row, the first film will naturally already be rented out. Where then to turn? You can certainly do worse than this one. 

-Nate Hill

REAL GENIUS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

Real Genius 1

In the 1980s, Martha Coolidge’s films were a welcome antidote to the dominance of John Hughes’ output. On the surface, her films appear to be quite similar, but whereas Hughes’ films ultimately play it safe and are conservative in nature (i.e. the status quo is preserved), Coolidge’s films champion the outsider in society – for example, Nicolas Cage’s punk rocker hooks up with Deborah Foreman’s Valley girl despite societal pressure in Valley Girl (1983). Real Genius (1985) appears to be just another mindless college comedy like Revenge of the Nerds (1984), but whereas that film had its outsiders ultimately become part of accepted mainstream society, the nerds in Real Genius rebel against it and are proud to be different.

Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret) is a brilliant high school student recruited by Professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) to become a student at Pacific Tech and join a special team working on an experimental laser. Hathaway tells Mitch and his parents in person at a science fair. The exchange between them is priceless. His parents obviously have no idea just how smart their son is and only want him to get the best education. At one point, Mitch’s mother asks Hathaway, “I saw your show the other night on radioactive isotopes and I’ve got a question for you. Is that your real hair?” He cheerfully replies, “Is Mitch by any chance adopted?” They are oblivious to the implied insult and Hathaway pulls Mitch aside and tells him, “We’re different than most people. Better.” Hathaway’s elitist attitude is established early on, setting him up as an arrogant snob that must be taught a lesson in humility by our heroes.

Hathaway rooms Mitch with Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), the top brain on campus – at least he used to be until Mitch showed up. We first meet Chris as he’s being taken on a guided tour of a top science laboratory. He has a t-shirt on that reads, “I love toxic waste,” and a set of alien antennae on his head that demonstrate he is the antithesis of Hathaway. He may be super smart but he’s not a stuffed shirt. At one point, his tour guide asks him, “You’re Chris Knight, aren’t you?” Without missing a beat, he replies, “I hope so, I’m wearing his underwear.” Val Kilmer’s deadpan delivery is right on the money and he demonstrates an uncanny knack for comic timing. The film could have so easily set up a rivalry between Chris and Mitch but instead they become friends and team up against a common foe: Kent (Robert Prescott), an arrogant senior student who is also working on the laser.

Chris is super smart, but something of a loose cannon, always cracking jokes and never taking anything too seriously, much to Mitch’s consternation because he doesn’t know how to loosen up and have fun. Mitch also has trouble adjusting to campus life and this isn’t helped by Kent who enjoys tormenting Mitch when the senior student isn’t busy sucking up to Hathaway. Coolidge replaces the class warfare in Valley Girl with in-fighting amongst academics in Real Genius. The setting may be different, but the tactics are no less mean-spirited as Kent delights in publicly humiliating Mitch. Meanwhile, Hathaway puts pressure on Chris to produce a working laser before the school year ends. Failure to do so will result in Hathaway making sure that Chris doesn’t graduate or work in his field of expertise. Unbeknownst to the ace student, his professor is getting pressured by a flunky and his superior from the CIA who want to use the laser for their own covert actions (assassinations from outer space?).

Every so often, Mitch catches a glimpse of a mysterious long-haired man who goes into his closet at random times during the day. His name is Lazlo (Jon Gries) and he lives deep in the bowels of the school. He used to be the smartest student on campus back in the 1970s but cracked under the pressure and now spends all of his time generating entries for the Frito Lay sweepstakes (enter as often as you like) so as to get as many of the prizes as possible. Jon Gries plays Lazlo as a shy genius, smarter than Chris and Mitch combined. He’s a gentle soul and a far cry from the arrogant blowhard he would go on to play in Napoleon Dynamite (2004).

Over the course of the film, Mitch finds himself attracted to Jordan (Michelle Meyrink), a hyperactive student who never seems to sleep. She sports an adorable Louise Brooks-style bob haircut and a nervous energy that is oddly attractive. I had a huge crush on her when I first saw this film back in the day, quite possibly one of my earliest cinematic crushes. She was the ultimate nerd sex symbol in the ‘80s with her undeniable beauty and brains. Sadly, after a few films she grew disenchanted with the movie making business and retired to Canada to become a Zen Buddhist.

Remember when Val Kilmer was funny? Between this film and Top Secret! (1984), he displayed some impressive comedic chops. Kilmer excels at delivering smartass quips and jokes but is also capable of delivering an inspirational speech that convinces Mitch to stick it out at school and get revenge on Kent. There are two scenes where he dispenses with the jokes and has a relatively serious conversation with Mitch about life. They are refreshingly heartfelt and elevate Real Genius above the usual ‘80s teen comedy.

Gabe Jarret is perfectly cast as the helplessly square Mitch with his dorky haircut and his J.C. Penney’s wardrobe. We aren’t meant to laugh at him and Coolidge shows that he’s a good kid thrust into a new and strange environment. He’s smart, but lacks the emotional maturity, which he will acquire over the course of the film. Jarret does a nice job of conveying his character’s arc. He doesn’t totally transform into Chris but instead absorbs some of his traits while remaining true to himself.

Real Genius 2In the ‘80s, William Atherton seemed to be the go-to guy for playing douchebag authority figures, with memorable turns as the unscrupulous journalist in Die Hard (1988), the “dickless” EPA guy in Ghostbusters (1984), and, of course, his turn in Real Genius. Atherton’s job, and man, does he do it oh so well, is to provide a source of conflict for our protagonists. He portrays Hathaway as the ultimate arrogant prick and we can’t wait to see him get his well-deserved comeuppance at the hands of Chris and Mitch.

Real Genius
does plug in the usual tropes of ‘80s teen comedies with the now dated soundtrack of New Wave songs, most of them forgotten except for “Everybody Wants to the Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, which plays over the blissfully carefree ending of the film. There are the wacky comedic set pieces involving pranks. There’s also the T&A factor when Chris takes Mitch to an indoor pool party populated by sexy beauticians. Not to mention, the dorm that Chris and his classmates live in which vaguely resembles the chaotic frat house in Animal House (1978), only inhabited by really smart people.

However, it is how the film presents these generic elements that sets it apart from the typical ‘80s teen comedy. For example, the pranks are quite inventive, like when Chris and Mitch manage to place Kent’s car in his dorm room. There are several and they all lead up to the mack daddy of them all, which occurs at the climax of the film. While there is the requisite T&A factor in Real Genius, the PG rating assures that we don’t see much, just some girls in bikinis. Instead, we get the understated romance that develops between Mitch and Jordan, which is rather sweet in its own unassuming way. The dorm is certainly not the debauched chaos of Delta House, but it clearly is a place of fun, led by Chris and his various antics.

Producer Brian Grazer loved the humor and the sensibility that Martha Coolidge brought to Valley Girl and asked her to direct Real Genius. She thought that the screenplay was funny, but it had “a lot of penis and scatological jokes” that reminded her of other teen comedies she had turned down in the past. However, Grazer brought in Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel to give the script a polish and had Coolidge re-read it. She liked it and Grazer’s boundless enthusiasm convinced her to commit to the project. Still not completely satisfied with the script, Grazer brought in comedy writer P.J. Torokvei to help Coolidge create the story, come up with the ending and fully develop the characters. For example, it was Torokvei who came up with the character of Jordan and was responsible for many of Chris Knight’s memorably smartass remarks.

Coolidge insisted on researching laser technology and policies of the CIA. The producers even brought in top-level consultants from the military and weapons development experts. To make Real Genius distinctive from other teen science fiction films at the time, the director went to great lengths to make sure the science was authentic and the science fiction aspect was plausible. At the time, scientists were actually working on the powerful laser Chris and his fellow students were developing for Hathaway, but the filmmakers could only work with a smaller wattage for reasons of safety and cost. The production used real lasers with very little visual effects enhancement, of which was used only sparingly at the film’s climax.

In addition, she interviewed dozens of Cal Tech students and based most of the stories in the film and the visual depiction of their school on Cal Tech, in particular Dabney Hall. Coolidge also met with all kinds of scientists and students, including the legendary Cal Tech mathematician grad that was rumored to have lived in the steam tunnels. To say that the director was a stickler for authenticity was an understatement. The graffiti in the dorm was copied from the actual dorm graffiti by scenic painters and then embellished further by Cal Tech students brought in by the production.

Not surprisingly, Coolidge and producers saw many young actors for the role of Chris Knight. It became obvious that Val Kilmer was the best actor to embody the role, but John Cusack was also considered at one point. However, once principal photography began, Coolidge found Kilmer not so easy to work with because he was “intellectually challenging and erratic.” He avoided working by asking a lot of questions and was sometimes late to the set and acted moody. That being said, over the 75-day shoot, they gained a lot of trust and worked well together.

The filmmakers also spent a lot of time trying to cast an actor for the role of Mitch Taylor. At one point, they seriously considered hiring a true young genius that had graduated college in his early teens. They discovered Gabe Jarret late in pre-production and he had the “right combination of seriousness, gawkiness, intelligence and emotion that we needed,” Coolidge remembers.

For the house that explodes with popcorn at the film’s exciting climax, the special F/X people designed all kinds of hydraulic systems to move the popcorn. The next challenge was generating all the stuff. They couldn’t buy all the popcorn needed for the scene in the short amount of time they had so the film crew popped 40 tons themselves on the lot over six weeks. All the popcorn was stored in 38 40-foot tractor-trailer trucks.

Real Genius 3Real Genius
argues that nerds can have fun too, but there needs to be a balance. You can love solving problems but it can’t be all science and no philosophy as Chris tells Mitch. People like Kent and Hathaway have no sense of humor and are self-obsessed egotists. They are ambitious to a fault, not caring who they step on the way, while Chris and Mitch are aware of the consequences of their actions. There is sweetness to this film that is endearing and rather strange considering that Neal Israel and Pat Proft wrote the screenplay (authors of such paeans to sweetness, like Police Academy and Bachelor Party), but Coolidge is firmly in charge and wisely doesn’t let Real Genius get too sappy. She also doesn’t let the funny stuff devolve into mindless frat humor, instead maintaining a proper mix that doesn’t insult our intelligence. The end result is a film that the characters in the film might enjoy, if they weren’t already in it. Achieving just the right alchemy may explain why the film continues to enjoy a modest cult following and is one of the few teen comedies from the ‘80s that stands the test of time.