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Pandemics in Film: Nate’s Top Ten Virus Movies

It’s crazy times we’re living in because of this Coronavirus, and I hope everyone out there is staying safe, taking necessary precautions and keeping a level head about the pandemic. I also hope you all are finding time amidst the chaos to take care of yourselves, have a beer, cuddle your pets, chill with loved ones and do things that make you happy. I myself am continuing the blogging train to stay sane and this week it’s time to take a look at my top ten favourite films about viruses, yay! Not to be deliberately morbid but it does seem appropriate given our situation and there are some really excellent films out there that deal with outbreaks, from procedural dramas to schlocky horror to fascinating science fiction. Enjoy my picks!

10. Robert Kurtzman’s The Rage

I had to include at least one low budget gore fest on this list because it’s an incredibly formative arena in the genre for me. Legendary FX guru Kurtzman makes hilariously scrappy work in telling of a batshit insane evil Russian scientist (the great Andrew Divoff having a blast) who releases a horrific rage virus into human tests subjects. When they get loose and vultures feed on them the vultures go ape shit and become nasty mutants that go after everyone and it’s all a deliriously violent bit of B horror mayhem. Can’t go wrong with mutant vulture puppets done with knowingly crude effects and a whole lot of choppy editing commotion.

9. Breck Eisner’s The Crazies

This one is interesting because the deadly virus isn’t your typical flesh eating zombie kind but rather infects the population of a small county with mental instability and eventual madness. There’s something so unnerving about the afflicted’s behaviour here and the incredibly suspenseful efforts of one sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) to keep the insanity under control.

8. Neil Marshall’s Doomsday

It’s unfair to call this film simply a virus themed horror flick, as there’s just so much going on. It’s part Escape From New York, part Tomb Raider, part Mad Max like several films collided into each other at top speed and yes, there’s a nasty killer virus here too that wiped out most of Britain’s population. Malcolm McDowell’s scientist turned medieval despot puts it best when he observes: “A virus doesn’t choose a time or place. It doesn’t hate or even care. It just happens.” Astute analysis of such an event.

7. Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever

The gross-out factor is to the extreme and the dark humour dial turned up to the max in this ooey gooey tale about a group of vacationing friends who encounter a horrendous flesh eating virus at their rural getaway. Man there are some wince-out-loud moments here, just watch what it does to a girl shaving her legs, as well as the shocked reaction of one dude who goes to finger bang his girl and comes up with a handful of… well, her I guess. Also that running joke regarding the redneck convenience store owner and the rifle above his counter? Fucking top tier comedy gold right there. Avoid the remake, Roth’s original vision is the real deal.

6. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later

I’m trying not to make this list too zombie-centric because it somehow feels like cheating but one slot gets designated and it has to be these two superb films. There’s a ferocity, an overwhelming intensity to those infected by this virus that makes both films feel thrillingly alive, dangerously immediate and gives them a cutthroat edge. Oh and I guess I cheated already anyways by putting two films in one spot but I’m one of the rare people who finds Weeks just as amazing as Days so they get to share the pedestal. Robert Carlyle going full Jack Torrence on bath salts man, can’t beat that aesthetic.

5. The Farrelly Brothers’ Osmosis Jones

This is such an underrated flick and if I ever do a top ten list on films that combine live action with animation it’ll make that cut too. Bill Murray is a slobbish zookeeper who contracts a wicked nasty virus played by… Laurence Fishburne lol. Half the film takes place inside his body where a rogue cop white blood cell (Chris Rock) races to stop the fiendish strain before it gets to all the major organs and it’s game over. The animation is slick, uniquely styled and the film just hums along with cool ideas, colourful imagery and terrific voiceover work.

4. Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil

This film has quite the virus, it doesn’t just stop short of turning people into zombies but mutates than into all kinds of giant horrific monsters for Milla Jovovich’s Alice to fight. I think these films are great, particularly this super stylish, sexy first entry that’s got enough blood, psychotic Dobermans, gunfire and security system gadgetry to bring the house down.

3. Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak

While this one does take the big budget Hollywood approach to the virus motif, it’s still a smart, scary and incredibly suspenseful piece, and holy damn the virus here is one monster. “It’s the scariest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen” says Dustin Hoffman’s virologist guru, and he’s not fucking kidding. It has a kill timetable of 24 hours, which are almost insurmountable odds but these people try their best and provide one hell of an engaging film.

2. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion

This one, while still a Hollywood release, takes the clinical and detached route. Despite being heavily casted with big time A list talent the real star of the show here is the virus itself and it’s ruthless journey from Hong Kong to the states and beyond. Soderbergh employs crisp, precise editing and a sonic jolt of a score from Cliff Martinez to keep this thing moving along at the same scary pace as the pandemic it chronicles.

1. Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

This one made the top spot on my time travel movie list too and does the same here, it’s just an all timer for me. We don’t even really see the virus here that wiped out most of humanity or it’s effects, most of the film takes place either just before or long after it’s released. But we get a sense of it, in the desolate snowy streets Bruce Willis walks through in a Mr. Freeze looking quarantine suit, filled with spectral roaming animals turned loose from a zoo. We feel the maniacal nature of the insane doomsday prophet (David Morse) who released it too.

-Nate Hill

Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy

What’s the first R rated film you ever saw in theatres? For me it was Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy, a gorgeous piece that has since stuck with me not just for the fact that it left a vivid, bloody impression on my young psyche but also because it’s quality filmmaking, no matter what anyone might tell you. Never mind the fact that Brad Pitt doesn’t quite fit the old world aesthetic or is out-acted by almost everyone in the film including the host of classically trained professionals he’s surrounded by. There is a lot to love here, starting with a narrative that is kind of not so common in big budget Hollywood; there are no real good guys or bad guys here, just people making decisions that lead to war. We witness compassion on both sides of the army, and cruelty too, but there are no clear cut heroes or tyrants, it’s all politics or emotion. This makes it pesky choosing who to root for but so much more fascinating once the swords start swinging and you have stock on either side.

Pitt may not have the accent down as mythical warrior Achilles but he sure gets a striking look going, streamlined physicality, epic spear throws and concise, satisfying sword fight choreography that he obviously put a lot of work into. Eric Bana is just as impressive as Trojan prince Hector, a rational, anti-war guy who resents his younger brother Paris (Orlando Bloom, wooden as ever) for basically screwing things up as badly as you possibly could. The romance between him and Helen (Diane Kruger, radiant) never feels authentic and definitely is not developed enough to start a war of this magnitude, but their relationships aren’t where we place out investment here anyways. It’s Hector, his princess (Saffron Burrows will break your heart) and their infant son as well as Achilles’s protectiveness over his cousin Patrocles (Garett Hedlund) that win over our emotions and make us care.

The siege on the beach of Troy is a nervous spectacle set up with anticipation in the air as a single bell rings out, signalling ships on the horizon. As spectacular as the war is cinematically I found myself wishing it wasn’t happening just because of the suffering inflicted on either side. It’s not a pleasant or glorious set of battles and no one really wins but rather comes to a collective bitter end, which is another unique factor here. Look at this cast they’ve assembled too, with bold turns from Sean Bean as Odysseus, Peter O’Toole as King Priam of Troy, Brendan Gleeson as the petulant king of Sparta and a loathsome, fantastic Brian Cox as the greedy warlord Agamemnon. Rose Byrne is soulful as the young Trojan priestess who serves as concubine to Achilles until he actually catches feels, and watch for James Cosmo, Tyler Mane, Julian Glover, Nigel Terry, Vincent Reagan and a quick cameo from the great Julie Christie, still beautiful as ever.

Petersen mounts an impressive production here, full of horses, ships, elaborate sets and gorgeous costumes, brought alive by James Horner’s restless, melancholy score. The set pieces are fantastic too, the best of which involves Pitt and Bana in a ruthless one on one fight to the death, each angry and lunging with sword and spear while their people look on, its well staged and genuinely suspenseful thanks to the hour plus of character building before. I couldn’t give a shit whether this is either historically accurate or follows the literature closely at all, that’s not the point for me in going into something like this. I want to see immersive, brutal battle scenes that thrill and I want an overarching story that makes me care about said battle, so every spear throw and image of carnage holds some weight beyond itself. Actors like Pitt, Bana, O’Toole, Reagan and especially Burrows sold me on it and had me legit worrying what will happen to them so that when the dust settles and the very tragic, depressing outcome is apparent, you are haunted by it after. It sure had that effect on me at age eleven or whenever. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Wolfgang Petersen’s Shattered

Wolfgang Petersen is known for directing some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters over the years including Air Force One, The Neverending Story, The Perfect Storm and Troy. One thing he hasn’t done much of is writing, other than the melodramatic, Hitchockian 1991 thriller Shattered, which is kind of a mess. Whether it’s the source novel by Richard Neely that’s dodgy or Petersen’s screenplay that dropped the ball, this film doesn’t quite clearly delineate it’s plot points, many of which are so far beyond plausible it’s hard to really get a grip on the story or keep a straight face. Tom Berenger plays a powerful businessman who accidentally launches his car off a highway outcrop into a spectacular swan dive that leaves his face looking like a dirt bike track and his memory more absent than of Jason Bourne’s. After some facial reconstruction he’s back on his feet and in the arms of his wife (Greta Scacchi), but something just doesn’t quite seem right. The memories she tells him of before the accident don’t seem real to him, he starts gathering clues relating to some kind of infidelity or cover up and his intuition just tells him he’s being thrown for a loop. This is where the film’s narrative sort of imitates that car and drives right over the edge of comprehension; The serpentine twists and turns employed are sort of fun but have absolutely no place in the real world, let alone even a hard boiled thriller like this. Bob Hoskins is fun as a snarky veterinarian who moonlights as a PI, trying to help Berenger fit the pieces together. Corbin Bernsen listlessly plays yet another smarmy role as his ex business partner, I sometimes wonder if they’ve ever given that guy a role worth his salt or if his career is cursed with playing the annoyingly extroverted debonair who has zero depth. Joanne Whalley Kilmer shows up as some psychic who throws around vague threats and acts like she knows something but isn’t even sure herself what it is, which is the feeling the script gives you. By the time the final revelations make themselves known and we see what really happened after the accident it’s kind of fun but also just riddled with inconsistencies and eye roll moments. It isn’t a bad film though, and has a few moments. There’s great cinematography of Oregon and San Francisco as well as a foggy shipwreck that holds a few secrets and gives off spooky ambience. The score by Alan Silvestri is steamy in places, rousing in others and gets the job done. It’s just the story that sort of treats us like we’re idiots, and as if we not only haven’t seen this story done before, but seen it done better.

-Nate Hill

Wolfgang Petersen’s In The Line Of Fire

Wolfgang Petersen’s In The Line Of Fire is as solid as action pictures get, a three course thriller meal, and one of my favourite Clint Eastwood flicks. Starting to show his age here and adopting a brittle, calcified hardness, he plays disgraced secret service agent Frank Horrigan, a quiet, resolute man who is haunted by his failure to protect Kennedy from that infamous bullet. He’s on undercover sting operations with his rookie partner (Dylan McDermott) these days, and is battling some health issues that go hand in hand with getting up there in years. No better time for predatory, mercurial ex CIA assassin Mitch Leary (a terrifying John Malkovich) to taunt him out of retirement with threats against the new president, up for election. Leary is a cunning psychopath who won’t go down so easy, and Frank is just the determined wolfhound to take him down, as a dangerous, violently suspenseful game of cat and mouse plays out. There’s an obligatory female love interest too, but the film shirks the usual ditzy throwaway chick and goes for something classier in Rene Russo, a capable senior agent who initially roasts Frank for his age before eventually warming up. Russo is an unconventionally attractive, intuitively engaging actress whose subtly likeable nature sneaks up on you and the muted chemistry she has with Eastwood is terrific. The three excellent leads are surrounded by a nebulae of awesome supporting players including John Mahoney, the always solid Gary Cole, Fred Dalton Thompson, a sleazy Tobin Bell and scene stealing character actor Steve Railsback in a brilliant cameo as Leary’s shady former Agency handler. Subtlety has never been Petersen’s forte, but his approach works here as he tells the story in big, bold strokes that highlight each set piece with sterling suspense. There’s also a brooding score by the master himself, Ennio Morricone, which takes the solemn, scary route instead of blaring up the Zimmer-esque fireworks. As great as the action is here (that plastic 3D printed gun though), my favourite scenes are the creepy late night phone calls that Malkovich makes to Eastwood, teasing him but also betraying notes of loneliness in his perverted psyche. This is a battle of wills before it even gets physical, and the two heavyweights spar off of each other with calculated portent and restrained, fascinated loathing. A thriller classic.

-Nate Hill

It’s PAYBACK Time!: The Martial Arts Kid 2 Interviews by Kent Hill

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I have always been a fan of underdog stories. They hold for the viewer a message of hope that – should one’s fortitude and perseverance be fixed to the sticking place – then there is nothing that can’t be accomplished or overcome.

Having enjoyed the first installment of the Martial Arts Kid, as well as having a chance to chat with two of its legendary cast, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock, I was thrilled at the prospect that, not only would the story continue, but that I would have a chance to meet the players from this exciting second chapter.

Of course, it is obvious, that there are parallels to be drawn with John G. Avildsen’s iconic The Karate Kid. Still this is a story onto itself – a story of the discipline it takes to rise to the challenge, and ultimately find redemption in the wake of defeat.

The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback sees the return of Wilson and Rothrock, headlining an all-star cast of Martial Arts professionals in a tale of courage and honor in the face of adversity. My guests include Producer, Dr. Robert Goldman and stars T.J. Storm, Matthew Ziff and Brandon Russell – all returning from the MAK. I’m certain this shall be another inspirational story, combined with the finest Martial Arts action, and featuring the real life champions of the various styles. A pleasure it was to talk to each of them, and more exciting, the anticipation of the release of the MAK 2. I trust you will enjoy my guest’s insights along with the movie . . . upon its release.

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{Courtesy of https://www.drbobgoldman.info/}

Dr. Goldman is a 6th degree Black Belt in Karate, Chinese weapons expert, and world champion athlete with over 20 world strength records and has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.  Some of his past performance records include 13,500 consecutive straight leg situps and 321 consecutive handstand pushups. Dr. Goldman was an All-College athlete in four sports, a three-time winner of the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Physical Fitness Award, was voted Athlete of the Year, was the recipient of the Champions Award and was inducted into the World Hall of Fame of Physical Fitness, as well as induction into numerous Martial Arts Hall of Fames in North America, Europe, South America and Asia.  He founded the International Sports Hall of Fame, recognizing the world’s greatest sports legends, with ceremonies held annually at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival the largest sports festival in the world, with over 200,000 participants, 70+ sports represented and over 20,000 competing athletes, making it double the size of the Olympic Games.

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{Courtesy of https://www.martialartsentertainment.com/t-j-storm/}

In high school Storm was shy and started break-dancing as a way of trying to “fit in”. Dance quickly became T.J.’s passion and he would win over 200 dance competitions in the genres of hip hop and break-dancing. He received a dance scholarship and this paved the way for his move to Los Angeles and dancing in music videos. Dance was his passion, but it only provided him with enough money for rent and a diet of Ramen Noodles and Pop Tarts, with little left for anything else. Devoted to the martial arts, Storm often found himself stopping by and observing an outdoor Northern Shaolin class on his way home from work. Eventually Storm was approached by the teacher and he was asked to join class, allowing him to add the knowledge of Northern Shaolin to his others arts. Using his talents for dance and martial arts, T.J. began to pursue acting. He graduated from the Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Acting Academy. While playing the role of Bayu on the television series, Conan The Adventurer, Storm developed the unique action style that he is known for. His brand of action is a combination of martial arts, acrobatic skill, comedic timing, and an almost balletic grace. Storm has since gone on to work with Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Kelly Hu, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Michelle Rodriquez, Neal McDonough and Kristanna Loken. T.J. Storm made motion captures for Captain Josh Stone and Dave Johnson in Resident Evil 5. He is known for his roles as Criag Marduk in the Tekken Series, and Strider Hiryu in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Soon you will hear T.J. Storm in the video game Battlefield Hardline (2015), and see him in The Gold Rush Boogie (2015), Jonny Flytrap (2015) Bullets Blades and Blood (2015), Boone: The Bounty Hunter 2014 and as Coach Laurent Kaine in The Martial Arts Kid (2014).

 

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{Courtesy of http://www.matthewziff.com/}

Matthew Ziff’s professional career started two months after he was born when he signed with the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency in New York. He has been featured in numerous print ads and campaigns including Glamour magazine. By age 10, due to his talent as well as his professionalism, not only was he considered a top child model, called upon constantly for magazines, clothes and toy boxes, as well as various commercials, he had already appeared in comedy skits on both the David Letterman and Conan O’Brien shows. During his high school years at The Blair Academy, Matthew kept active with acting classes, as well as performing in stage productions, not only as an actor, but also as a director. Once in college at the University of Miami, he signed with Stellar and Elite Talent agencies where he filmed multiple commercials and embarked more thoroughly on his film career. Matthew has worked in many genres in such films as Six Gun Savior (Eric Roberts, Martin Kove), Treachery (Michael Biehn, Sarah Butler, Jennifer Blanc), Hardflip (John Schneider, Randy Wayne), Online Abduction (Brooke Butler, David Chokachi), Mansion of Blood (Robert Picardo, Gary Busey), Safelight (Evan Peters, Juno Temple), Among Friends (Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder) and Searching for Bobby D (Paul Borghese, William DeMeo). In addition to acting, Matthew has his second degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and has studied Hapkido as well as Kendo (swords). In July, 2012, he represented the USA in the International Quidditch Association’s Summer Games during the Olympic Torch Relay in England, where Team USA won the Gold medal. He is also a marksman with rifles and pistols and is a multi-instrumental musician specializing in guitar, bass and saxophone. Matthew has a Master’s of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Miami. He is a member of SAG, AFTRA, AEA and GIAA. He maintains homes in California, New York and Florida.

 

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{Courtesy of https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2182241/bio }

Brandon expressed an interest in acting at the age of 3 and by 5 was already a member of SAG. His biggest role to date was his lead role in the feature film, Smitty (2012), which was released in April 2012. Brandon plays the lead role of Ben Barrett and worked alongside: Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Louis Gossett Jr., Lolita Davidovich, Jason London, and Booboo Stewart. Since filming Smitty, he has gone on to film supporting roles in Wiener Dog Nationals (2013) and The Martial Arts Kid (2015). He also had a lead role in the UPtv holiday movie, Beverly Hills Christmas (2015). Brandon has also been seen on Tosh.0 (2009), Supah Ninjas (2011), and Instant Mom (2013). Later, he portrayed Peter Michaels in Fishes ‘n Loaves: Heaven Sent (2016) alongside Patrick Muldoon and Dina Meyer.

 

 

Wolfgang Petersen’s The Neverending Story

Although admittedly not quite as dense or thoughtful as Michael Ende’s classic novel, Wolfgang Petersen’s The Neverending Story is a stunning film full of imagery that has stuck with me for years. Petersen usually guns for sprawling adult oriented fare (Troy, Air Force One, Das Boot, The Perfect Storm, Enemy Mine), so this stands out as the one children’s story he’s done that still has that same epic magic he puts elsewhere, on a more whimsical scale. In a land called Fantasia, a threatening dark force called The Nothing is swallowing up real estate faster than Chinese investors, and many peaceful creatures are losing their homes to it. It lives up to it’s name in the sense that it is quite literally nothing, replacing tangible vistas with eerie black void, a spooky enough antagonist for any fable. It’s up to young prince Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) to journey across Fantasia, find the princess who is the origin of the land’s life force and restore balance in the universe. This is all in a dusty old storybook of course, eagerly read by a lonely kid (Barrett Oliver) holed up in some attic. I’ll admit I haven’t seen the film in a while, so I’m not up to speed on every little twist and crook in the story, but this one is kind of more about images and impressions than analytical narrative anyways, especially once Atreyu finds the Princess (Tami Stronach) and things get beautifully, cosmically surreal, then fairly meta as the world of Fantasia leaks out of the book’s pages into our own realm, and Oliver is treated to a flying escapade over the Vancouver skyline atop adorable dragon-doggo Falkor, a lovingly creaky reminder of the wonders of animatronic effects. I’ll always remember the council meeting between the rock biting giants, pint sized Willy Wonka looking dude and a sentient snail, all debating what course of action to take against The Nothing. The one primal element that stands out in my subconscious is the ongoing chase Atreyu finds himself in with a terrifying, ghostly direwolf that just won’t quit. For pure eerie suspense you can’t beat the seat grabbing moment where it ruthlessly pursues him through a haunted looking forest towards an escape so narrowly made that breathing isn’t an option while viewing it. Dark, scary stuff for a kids movie, but that should be the idea anyway. A wee bit dated on today’s terms, but all is forgiven considering the lasting impact it’s had on my generation, and the imprint on our dreams. I’d be wary of the two sequels, as I remember not a thing from the second, and only recall that the third is an abysmal thing that should have been left to the Nothing. Stick with this beauty instead.

-Nate Hill

One Bloody Good Actor: An Interview with Steve Le Marquand by Kent Hill

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Steve is a top bloke, he’s an Aussie, he’s a top Aussie bloke. He hails from Western Australia but after spending some years on the road and gathering valuable life experience, he found his way over to Sydney where he took up his apprenticeship studying performing arts – an apprenticeship, Steve will tell you, is still going on.

Early in an acting career, beggars can’t be choosers, so Steve took a stab at just about anything that came his way. One of his launching pads was a, determined after the fact, rather sacrilegious commercial in which The Last Supper had, or was depicted as having, a rather different outcome from that set down in the biblical text.

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It, though removed from television, got him some notice and a part in the Australian cult hit Two Hands in which Steve starred and began a friendship with fellow Perth-born actor, the late Heath Ledger. It was radically different from the films being made locally at the time and also launched the career of Rose Byrne (Troy, X-Men: First Class).

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He was disgruntled and ready to throw in the towel on his career when, unexpectedly, a big Hollywood movie came knocking at his door. The film was Vertical Limit, directed by Bond and Zorro director Martin Campbell and starring Scott Glenn and the late Bill Paxton among others. Steve was one half of a two man comedic relief package in the film alongside Ben Mendelsohn who would go on to international fame and appear in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and next year you’ll see him in Ernest Cline’s big screen version of Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg.

From those high snowy mountains in New Zealand (where Vertical Limit was filmed), Steve has since enjoyed a long a fruitful career in film, television and his first stomping ground, the theatre. He remains a humble, salt-of -the-earth sort of fella who calls it like it is and won’t act in something that he himself wouldn’t be interesting in watching.

In an era when most of our country’s talent is swept across the pond with the promise of maximum exposure and ridiculous amounts of money, Steve has stayed, content to be an actor who is allowed the freedom to collaborate fully on the projects he chooses to be a part of.

He is a man of many parts, a teller of great and funny tales from a life and career spent being just what he is: A bloody good actor.

So, put your hands to together, for Steve Le Marquand…