Saturday, October 22, 2016

Words of wisdom from John Cassavetes: “You know, in this business, it's all jealousy.”

Jeffrey Wells posted an interesting commentary today over at Hollywood Elsewhere, postulating that Hollywood major players are far less supportive of their fellow filmmakers than their counterparts, past and present, in other countries. And got me to thinking about something the late, great John Cassavetes told me way during an interview way back in 1985. You can read the entire article I gleaned from our conversation in Gabriella Oldhman’s exceptional anthology John Cassavetes: Interviews, recently published by the University Press of Mississippi. (Mind you, I’m not saying it’s exceptional simply because she included something written by me — but, hey, that didn’t hurt.) This particular segment, however, I feel is especially relevant in light of Wells’ observation:

So, at 55, John Cassavetes is still a maverick, eh?

The question elicits a melancholy smile. Cassavetes stares at his soft drink for a moment as he calmly considers his answer. “People used to love to call me a maverick, because I had a big mouth, and I’d say, ‘That bum!’ or something like that when I was young. Mainly, because I believed it, and I didn’t know there was anybody’s pain connected to the business. I was so young, I didn't feel any pain. I just thought, ‘Why don’t they do some exciting, venturesome things? Why are they just sitting there, doing these dull pictures that have already been done many, many times, and calling them exciting? That's a lie — they're not exciting. Exciting is an experiment.’

“Now, from the point of view of a guy in his 20s, that was true. But when I look back on it, I think, yes, that man was a maverick. But...”

His words trail off into weak laughter.

“That reputation keeps with you, through the years. Once the press calls you a maverick, it stays in their files. I’ll be dead five years, and they'll still be saying, ‘That maverick son-of-a-bitch, he's off in Colorado, making a movie. As if they really cared.

“You know, in this business, it's all jealousy. I mean, this is the dumbest business I’ve ever seen in my life. If somebody gets married, they say, ‘It’ll never work.’ If somebody gets divorced, they say, ‘Good. I'll give you my lawyer.’ If somebody loses a job, everyone will call him -- to gloat. They’ll discuss it, they’ll be happy, they’ll have parties. I don't understand how people that can see each other all the time, and be friends, can be so happy about each other’s demise.

“I think people, studio executives and filmmakers, should hate each other openly, and save a lot of trouble. Its like me and actors. I never get along with actors, not on the level of friendship, because I don't believe in it. Only on a creative level. Now, through a period of years, Peter Falk and I have become very good friends, as have Ben Gazzara and I. But only after a period of years. That friendship came out of working on Husbands together, and the success that came out of that. And a lot of other films, too. Sometimes, we’ve been successful, and sometimes we've been unsuccessful. I mean, the creative part of it has always been successful. That’s been the bargain of it, our relationship.

“But I’m sure that, the moment I was no longer interested in anything artistic, Peter would not be my friend anymore. And that would be fair game. I probably wouldn’t be his friend, either, if I weren’t interested in art.” 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Wild Western: In a Valley of Violence

Ti West's In a Valley of Violence, as I have posted elsewhere, is a brutally gritty and slow-burningly suspenseful drama that is laced with elements of dark comedy, abounding in deadly serious mayhem, and loaded with tips of the Stetson to classic Spaghetti Westerns. The official plot synopsis:

A mysterious drifter named Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog Abbie make their way toward Mexico through the barren desert of the Old West. In an attempt to shorten their journey they cut through the center of a large valley, landing themselves in the forgotten town of Denton — a place now dubbed by locals as a “valley of violence.” The once-popular mining town is nearly abandoned, and controlled by a brash group of misfits and nitwits. Chief among them: the seemingly untouchable Gilly (James Ransone), who is the troublemaking son of the town’s unforgiving marshal (John Travolta). 

As tensions rise between Paul and Gilly, Denton’s remaining residents bear witness to an inevitable act of violence that starts a disastrous chain reaction, infecting the petty lives of all involved, and quickly drags the whole town into the bloody crosshairs of revenge. Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga) and Ellen (Karen Gillan), two bickering sisters who run the town’s only hotel, try to find the good in both men, while desperately searching for their own salvation. Only the world-weary marshal struggles to stop the violent hysteria. But after a gruesome discovery about Paul’s past, there is no stopping the escalation

The movie opens Friday in theatrical and VOD release. Here is an interview I did with lead player Ethan Hawke, and here is another Q&A I conducted with director Ti West -- both for Cowboys & Indians Magazine.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

There are bad movies, and then there are worse movies, and then there is... Max Steel

"That loud, dull thud you may have heard emanating from megaplexes Friday signaled the theatrical dump of Max Steel, a ponderous and preposterous sci-fi action-adventure that obviously was intended by folks aflame with misguided optimism as the curtain-raiser for a superhero franchise. Inspired, for want of a better term, by a Mattel action figure and its TV cartoon show spinoffs, this drearily lame time-waster plays like the origin story for a comic-book series about a teen who wields energy waves as an offensive weapon, and a techno-organic extraterrestrial that serves as his sidekick. Or something like that. Suffice it to say that if Nick Fury ever sized up these guys as potential Avengers, he wouldn’t even bother to draft them for the farm team."

You can read the rest of my Variety review of this misbegotten movie here.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Shin Godzilla: The Batman Begins of Zilla Thrillers

"The Original Gangsta Lizard gets a largely satisfying reboot in Shin Godzilla, a surprisingly clever monster mash best described as the Batman Begins of Zilla Thrillers. Co-directors Hideaki Anno (the cult-fave Evangelion franchise) and Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan), working from Anno’s genre-respectful yet realpolitik-savvy screenplay, draw basic elements from Ishiro Honda’s original 1954 Gojira and its many follow-ups — to the point of including a wink-wink, nudge-nudge reference to Goro Naki, a character who loomed large in two sequels — but update the familiar kaiju mythos to a 21st-century world where the sudden appearance of an immense, fire-breathing reptile in Japan can generate all sorts of inter-agency political wrangling, revive terribly unpleasant memories of the country’s militaristic past, and really, really wreak havoc on the value of the yen in global monetary markets.

"In short, Anno and Ishihara operate according to a classic sci-fi game plan: This couldn’t happen. But if it did happen, this probably is what would happen."

You can read the rest of my Variety review of Shin Godzilla — which Funimation Films will release Tuesday, Oct. 11, in theaters throughout North America here. And you can read my 2014 tribute to Big G here.

Phantasm: Ravager: A grand finale for the franchise?

Phantasm: Ravager began to roll out in limited theatrical release this weekend. As I reported for Variety last month from Fantastic Fest:

"It’s kinda-sorta like an Alain Resnais movie, only with zombie dwarfs. And four-barrel shotguns. And, of course, floating, blade-bedecked silver spheres. Phantasm: Ravager — the fifth and purportedly final installment in the cult-favorite franchise launched in 1979 with writer-director Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm — most assuredly is the surreal thing, a time-tripping, dimension-hopping whirligig that suggests Last Year at Marienbad (or, better still, Resnais’ Je t’aime, je t’aime) reconstituted as the fever dream of a horror-fantasy aficionado. 

"Anyone unfamiliar with its predecessors in the on-again, off-again series (which includes two direct-to-video sequels) won’t be able to make heads or tails of what transpires here. Indeed, even dedicated Phantasm fanatics may be hard-pressed to discern anything resembling a unifying narrative thread. But the latter group — the film’s target audience — likely will be willing to eschew coherence for the opportunity to savor this chaotic reprise of familiar characters and concepts in the cinematic equivalent of a greatest hits album."

You can read the rest of my review here.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Middle School: Fun for all ages. No kidding.

There’s a very funny scene in Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life where a plucky and brainy sixth-grader (Isabela Mona) explains to an endlessly resourceful fellow student (Griffin Gluck) the intricacies of an ancient technology known as VHS recording. She is enthusiastic in her instruction, but he remains dubious about… about… well, recording anything inside something that looks like nothing more than a small plastic box.

Obviously, this is a movie designed primarily for tweeners. But that doesn’t mean audiences with living memories of the pre-DVD era can’t enjoy it, too. To quote my Variety review:

“As Francois Truffaut sagely noted, adolescence leaves pleasant memories only for adults who cannot remember. So it’s entirely possible that even the folks who made Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life will be pleasantly surprised by the cross-generational appeal of their spirited comedy about a sixth-grader’s antiauthoritarian campaign of rule-breaking mischief. To be sure, every generation is entitled to its own revenge fantasy, and this particular wishdream — inspired by the series-spawning novel by James Patterson and Chris Tebbets — is aimed primarily at viewers who might not yet have a firm grasp on puberty. But Middle School also may resonate with older viewers who most certainly do remember adolescent angst.”

 You can read the rest of my review here.