Tag Archives: Yaphet Kotto

The Running Man

The Running Man is some silly ass shit, but it’s done with so much adorable enthusiasm, blinding 80’s neon and deafening ultra violence that it kinda wins you over. Plus it has one humdinger of a villain who, lets face it, gives the film most of its personality. Based on a Stephen King novel (albeit under his sheepish Bachman pseudonym), this takes place in one of those austere, glumly lit fascist hellscapes where there’s rubble everywhere, helicopters relentlessly thrum overhead and humanity has devolved to its worst. This is set in the year 2019 and although they undershot the level of depravity they imagined we’d sink to at this point, they sure as fuck weren’t far off the mark. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Ben Richards, a military man who is framed for heinous war crimes and forced to compete in the world’s most popular game show, a sadistic tournament called The Running Man where convicts are hunted down on live television by paid pro wrestler looking freak shows. This is all masterminded by an egotistical sociopath called Killian, played by real life former game show host Richard Dawson in what has to be one of the most inspired pieces of casting out there. It’s fun watching Ahnuld and slightly less athletic pal Yaphet Kotto get saddled with hilarious spandex onesies and shunted down a luge course from hell where they’re faced with such looming monsters as Subzero, Buzzsaw and Dynamo, who Arnie naturally begins dispatching in clever, gruesome ways followed by those obligatory one liners. It’s not a thoughtful film and the dystopian nightmare it establishes at the outset is never established on nor explored, mostly we just get sound, fury, profanity and extreme carnage as the game plays out about as loudly as any could get. The production design is so 80’s you could stick it in a time capsule, from dancing chicks with perms to synth music to Jesse Ventura himself in full roid-rage mode. Dawson is the soul of it all though and it wouldn’t be the same film without him, he steals the show as the ultimate evil ringmaster and has charisma that makes you laugh and want to knock his teeth down his throat in the same instance. Not the best of 80’s Arnie, but a fun, hectic ride through futuristic sci-fi.

-Nate Hill

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For Your Ears Only: Guy Hamilton’s LIVE AND LET DIE

Join us as we speak about Roger Moore’s first outing as 007 in Guy Hamilton’s Live and Let Die. We also cover the recent news that Danny Boyle has left the production of Bond 25, and we discuss the rumors and rationale behind it and also discuss who we would like to see take over as director. We also speak of the recent casting resurgence of Idris Elba as James Bond and where the franchise may go after Bond 25.

“I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of … feel kind of invincible.” : An Interview with W.D. Richter by Kent Hill

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To talk about W.D. (Rick) Richter, is to talk about one of my all-time favorite films, Big Trouble in Little China. It is, to put it simply, one of those films that comes along (not so much anymore) once in a generation. As we know in this age of remakes, reboots and re-imaginations, there is a very good chance that this film, because of its staying power and built-in fan base, will more than likely resurface with Dwayne Johnson playing Jack Burton. Just like Hansel in Zoolander he is, as far as the Studios are concerned, so hot right now!

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And you can be your bottom dollar that it will try like hell to recapture the magic of what was – and more than likely – crash ‘n’ burn in its attempt to do so. I might be wrong. Because, BTILC, was and is what is often referred to as a “happy accident”. What began as a seemingly awkward combination of a western with a plot that involved Chinese black magic became, thanks to my guest, a glorious blending of genres that there is really no recipe for.

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I rarely get nervous doing interviews, but I was glad to be sitting down for this one. When the person on the other end of the line had a hand in creating a couple of the seminal film of one’s existence . . . it is tough to play it cool, plus for the first time in a long time, I found the need to have my questions written, rather than merely see what the conversation would provoke. Primarily because I knew I was only going to have a limited time, and secondly because during our email exchanges prior to the chat, I found Rick to be extremely matter-of-fact and, wishing not to have the interview published in audio form, he merely wanted to be concise and not ramble on as, he says, has happened in the past.

So I sat and pondered questions. Having read other interviews with him in the past, before he’d stepped away from the business, the focus was on the films he had released at the time and didn’t really get below the surface. Off the record, we spoke about a few of the things that were beneath the polished exterior of the press kits, but that was not all that interested me. There have been many books and articles on his films, as well as many having excellent special features and commentary tracks which mine their depths – so I wasn’t going to waste time there.

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In the end I waited till the last minute and scribbled down the first questions that popped into my head. Some of course are elementary, but one or two I’ve had on my mind for a while.

Well, it took a long time, but sometimes, good things do. It was well worth the wait and the frustrating silences in between messages from Rick’s friend who very graciously made the introductions, and I, as a fan first, was humbled, honored and thrilled at the prospect of speaking to yet another film-making idol of mine.

While Rick, early in our email exchanges said, “I prefer to let he films, for better or worse, speak for themselves.” I am and will be forever grateful he took the time to talk a little about his work. In the end I wasn’t nervous or scared at all . . . I felt kind of invincible.

 

KH: Did you always want to work in movies and if so what were the films which influenced you?

WDR: First I wanted a paper route.  Then I wanted to run a circus.  Then I thought about pursuing a career as an English teacher.  Then I thought, “Why not aspire to become an actual tenured English professor?”  But, by the time I got to college, graduate film programs were springing up here and there.  Having loved movies since childhood, but never imagining there was a route available into the business, I suddenly saw a way to pursue a career in film in a structured, sensible way.

I went to a lot of movies of all kinds as a kid, but mostly B horror films from the mid-fifties through the mid-sixties.  In 1964, I saw DR. STRANGELOVE and in 1965 THE LOVED ONE.  They suggested a new direction and deeply influenced me.

KH: How did you break in to the business?

WDR: I wrote screenplays at USC, and one of them secured me an agent.  I then worked as a reader for Warners and wrote on the side and continued to do so when Warners and Irvin Kershner let me work as his assistant while he was prepping DIRTY HARRY for Sinatra.  That project fell apart, but a spec script I’d written, SLITHER, got to the director Howard Zeiff, and he set it up, odd as it was, and we shot it.  Presto!  I was a produced screenwriter.

KH: Your early career was full of greats like Dracula, Body Snatchers and your Oscar nod for Brubaker. How much does momentum play a factor in one’s career (films coming out and performing well) as well as recognition for one’s talent?

WDR: Actually, none of those films did perform well, but they were respected, and, as a result, I was respected as a young writer with perceived potential.  You must remember that during the seventies and eighties eccentric characters in unusual, small stories were nothing Hollywood ran screaming from.  That came later.

KH: You are a part of two of my favourite films of all time with Banzai and BTILC. How do you feel as an artist to be remembered for singular works rather than your entire body of creativity?

WDR: I’ve never given much thought to being “remembered”.  After all, sooner or later, this whole planet is going to be forgotten.

KH: If people want the skinny on Banzai, you have already provided an excellent commentary. What I would ask is, did you ever see Kevin Smith’s Q & A whose guests were Weller and Lithgow, and how did you feel about possible versions of the continuing story of Banzai?

WDR: I thought Kevin did a spectacular job that evening, and it was nice to learn how much the movie shaped him.  As long as Mac Rauch is involved, I feel quite confident that a “new” BUCKAROO could be as startling as the original.

KH: BTILC was ahead of its time, in my opinion. What I’ve always wanted to know is, what the “western version” was like prior to your work on the script, and how much of the finished film remains your work?

WDR: The “western version” just didn’t work for anybody, sad to say.  It all seemed too distant…the Old West and the Asian occult, etc.  So I proposed moving it to a modern, familiar setting and swapping the hero’s horse for a big rig.  The pitch went over well, and, with a writers’ strike looming, I dug into the challenge of creating a contemporary script in about seven weeks, choosing to do that with a somewhat dim but hopefully lovable hero at the center.  The finished film stayed absolutely true to my screenplay, apart from the inevitable ad libs here and there.  Jack Burton’s John-Wayne cadences, though, are definitely nothing I wrote or endorsed.  John and Kurt settled on that themselves.

You asked me prior to this conversation: “Did you write the line or was it improvised: I feel pretty good. I’m not, uh, I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… feel kind of invincible?”

Turns out I did write it.  I wrote the whole script furiously in longhand in several spiral notebooks, and a typist transcribed them into script format.

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KH: There was a significant gap between Home for the Holidays and Stealth. I have interviewed many writers who talk of these periods. They say, it’s not that I wasn’t writing, it’s just my scripts weren’t getting made. Was that true of your career at the time?

WDR: Definitely.  I had movies actually green-lighted then cancelled when directors went over budget in pre-production.

KH: I understand Stealth was a troubled production.

WDR: STEALTH was just a bizarre and massively unpleasant experience.  Directors and location scouts shouldn’t rewrite writers, if you want my opinion.  Kind of like Presidents shouldn’t tweet.

KH: Did your involvement end after the writing?

WDR: The “writing” never really stopped.  I was removed from the picture several times when my revisions failed to please the director.  But I was repeatedly brought back by the studio to pull the script back from the brink after the director (who shall remain nameless) had worked it over again in his spare time.  It’s the only film I’ve had made that, with great care, I kept my distance from during production and through release.

KH: I also love Needful Things. What was it like to adapt King?

WDR: Crazy.  The book is 690-pages of single-spaced prose.  My script was 124 pages, and you know how much “air” there is on a script page.  I figured that if one were to retype the novel in a crude screenplay format, it might easily hit 1000 pages.  So I lost roughly 876 pages while trying to keep King’s story and mood intact.  I have no sense of how that worked out because I’ve never reread the book, but I always imagined a looser, grittier, less-arch movie.

KH: Any advice you would give to a struggling screenwriter – not unlike myself?

WDR: Write.  Write.  Write.  But always try to imagine the movie itself playing to paying strangers.  Why would they — or you! — want to watch it?

KH: Sir it has been a profound honor to converse with you. I cherish the moment and humbly thank you.

WDR: Thank you, Kent. Take care.

Making Epics and eating Subway with Patrick Stewart: An Interview with Shahin Sean Solimon by Kent Hill

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There is a filmmaker working in Hollywood right now, who is out to show the big boys that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to make the movies you want to make. Shahin Sean Solimon is the man behind the movement. Together with his talented group of like-minded artists, he is forging new waves to achieve epic results without the big budget price tag.

“If I inspire some thirteen year old kid somewhere to pursue his or her dreams as I have, no matter what the nay-sayers say, I’ve done my job.”

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And getting the job done is exactly what Shahin has been doing.  Beginning with his first feature Djinn, Based on ancient middle eastern fairy tales written thousands of years ago, and passed down from generation to generation, Shahin crafted luscious, fantastical realms along with a pure and moving tale love and destiny.

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With his second film he took it to the next level, conjuring the days of high adventure and summoning cinema which brings to mind the heady days of Ray Harryhausen with: Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage. When the Sultan’s first born is taken by an evil sorcerer, Sinbad is tasked with traveling to a desert of magic and creatures to save her. Add into this the talents of Patrick Stewart (X-Men, Star Trek: The Next Generation), who offered his distinct vocal styling as the films narrator. He also turns out to enjoy Subway, but you’ll have to listen for more on that.

Now, for the next big thing. In his third feature Alpha: The Awakening, Shahin is tackling the sci-fi and post-apocalyptic genres with one mighty stroke. It is the story of a man, Apollo, who wakes up in the future to realize the human race has been wiped out because of an ancient virus.

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There seems to be no end to his creativity or his ability to realize his visions. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with this talented filmmaker who is, without a doubt, taking the bull by the horns and making the movies he wants to make.

“My inspiration as an artist is not about money, or fame…but about trying to project imagination, show a different perspective of life, and simply entertain.”

And entertaining us is what he has done and will, I believe, continue to do.

Midnight Run

Buddy comedy. Action crime extravaganza. Road trip flick. Endlessly charming. Funny beyond words. Surprisingly emotional where it counts. Midnight Run is a low key American classic and one of the best films ever put out by any studio. As close to perfect as it gets, engaging from beginning to end and rooted in it’s central relationship between terminally cranky bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) and straight laced, on-the-lam embezzling accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Gordon). They couldn’t be more dysfunctional, paired together on a country wide goose chase and pursued by the FBI (hilarious buffoon Yaphet Kotto, subject to a running joke for the ages), the world’s angriest Chicago mobster (Dennis Farina), a hapless fellow bounty hunter (John Ashton) and a weaselly bail bondsman (Joe Pantoliano). Deniro is a bitter, alienated lone wolf whose brittle exterior is gradually chipped away at by the warm-hearted, endearingly persistent Grodin, and their mutual character development is simply some of the best ever written and acted. The supporting cast whirls about them in perfect harmony, while every stroke of the plot lands neatly, for about as close to a perfectly staged narrative as you can get. My favourite sequence has to be the most affecting (because I’m a sap): the pair visits Jack’s ex wife and kids, and a heated, long overdue domestic squabble is stopped dead in it’s tracks as Jack’s daughter, who hasn’t seen him in nine years, walks into the room. It’s a heart wrenching scene in a mostly glib and cavalier film, but it’s little moments like that that set this apart and turn it from a formula flick into a formula flick populated by genuine human beings, and not simply written avatars for plot propulsion. The two leads have banter for the ages too, like when Grodin coaxes Deniro out of resentful silence by hinting that chickens they just spotted on an Indian reservation are looking pretty foxy, one in a countless stream of fresh, pithy and completely believable verbal interaction the two share throughout the film. It’s fun, exciting, rowdy, effortlessly well made, brilliant storytelling, and will always be way up there on my list of all time favourites.

-Nate Hill

Freddy’s Dead: The ‘Final’ Nightmare 


I’m not sure what they were going for with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, but the summation of what they produced is simply… bizarre. Of course it’s not the final round, they never can resist churning out meta reworking, crossovers and remakes, rendering the ‘final’ titles hilariously redundant (the ‘final’ Friday The 13th chapter is only the fourth entry in a franchise that soared into double digits). It’s silly more than anything else, like the New Line Cinema boardroom passed around the laughing gas and spit-balled out this cartoonish, random, cameo stuffed looney bin of a flick. Actually, writing credit goes to director Rachel Talalay, who also helped the equally silly rumpus cult classic Tank Girl, which is lovable in it’s own right. Speaking of silly, Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger has never been more buffoonish than here, the culmination of every one line and quip throughout the franchise. He’s back, hunting down the last remaining Springwood teenager, as well as a woman (Lisa Zane) whose connection to his past could be dicy for him. There’s also a weird backstory angle involving dream demons that look like sentient tadpoles who apparently are responsible for Freddy’s initial resurrection and powers. Hmm. The cameos seem like they just made a celebrity collage on a dartboard, blindfolded each other and flung them all over. Alice Cooper shows up in flashbacks as Freddy’s sadistic stepfather, Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold are around, plus Breckin Meyer and Yaphet Kotto. The rule of randoms is excepting Johnny Depp of course, an Elm Street veteran who has a quick bit as a TV advertisement dude. The dream sequences are wild and wacky, but never really frightening or as atmospheric as they used to be, the one springing to mind being a video game themed thing where pixelated Freddy chases a victim Super Mario style, not exactly the most bone chilling setting, but oh well. This does mark the last of the initial franchise before they moved on to deluxe entries like the super meta New Nightmare and the gong show that was Freddy Vs. Jason. If you’re looking for the weirdest Elm Street flick, you’ve found it, and if you’re looking for a scary, coherent one then you’ll have to backtrack earlier in the franchise, or skip ahead to Wes Craven’s excellent next one. 

-Nate Hill

Just wild about Larry: An Interview with Steve Mitchell by Kent Hill

Steve Mitchell has been on quite a ride. Having begun in the world of comics, he has the distinction of inking the very first book by a guy you might have heard of . . . Frank Miller. But being in New York with all his friends heading west, Steve, after forging an impressive beginning to his career, took a phone call one night from his another friend and filmmaker Jim Wynorski. Jim wanted an opinion on an idea that, if he could make it work, they might be able to get the picture made. From that conversation a film would be born. It was the cult classic Chopping Mall.

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So like Horatio Alger before him, he went west and continued writing for both the worlds of film and television. The fateful moment would come one day while looking over the credits of the legendary maverick auteur, Larry Cohen, on IMDB.  Astounded by the length and breadth of Cohen’s career, Steve saw an opportunity to possibly make a documentary that would chronicle the life and exploits of the successful filmmaker.

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After receiving a blessing from the man (Larry) himself, Steve set about the mammoth undertaking of  not only pulling together the interviews with Cohen’s many collaborators, all of the footage of his many works , but also the financing to bring these and the countless other elements together to form KING COHEN: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen.

This truly insightful and utterly entertaining look at the, thus far continuing, career of Cohen is the passion project of a man with whom I share a kinship. Not only for the stories behind the men who make the movies, but also how the films we know and love were pieced together with money, dreams, light, shadow and the technical tools which help capture and refine the many wondrous adventures we as cinema goers have been relishing since our very first experiences.

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KING COHEN is a great film made by a really great guy, and it is my hope, as it is Steve’s hope, that you enjoy the story of Larry Cohen, but also come away from watching the film wishing to then seek out and discover the movies contained within that you may have only experienced for the first time as part of the documentary. The films of the filmmaker that inspired Steve’s film in the first place. (that’s a lot films)

Enjoy…