KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: Grateful for “HATEFUL”: Actor Michael Madsen Bends Our Ear about Steve McQueen, James Bond, HAWAII FIVE-O, Vintage Muscle Cars, Lee Marvin, Matt Helm, Roger Corman, and How He Saddled Up for Quentin Tarantino’s New Western, THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Posted on: Dec 22nd, 2015 By:
Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

By Gregory Nicoll
Contributing Writer

“I don’t always play bad guys,” observes Michael Madsen, his voice as raspy and powerful as a Harley-Davidson’s exhaust pipe, “but for some reason when I do, it gets more attention than when I play somebody who doesn’t have a gun.”

Even without a firearm in his hand, the burly 6’ 2” actor radiates an onscreen menace so palpable it inspires nightmares. His breakthrough role was playing Mister Blonde in Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), for which he tortured a policeman with a razor and gasoline in one of the most disturbing sequences of ’90s cinema. But despite equally convincing performances in high-profile good-guy parts – such as the loving dad in FREE WILLY (1993), the action hero in SPECIES (1995), and a stoic lawman in WYATT EARP (1994) – Madsen still finds himself cast more often on the dark side, with unforgettable bad-guy turns in KILL BILL (2003/2004), HELL RIDE (2008), DONNIE BRASCO (1997) and THE GETAWAY (1994) His latest movie is Tarantino’s much-anticipated new western, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, which opens on Christmas day in an extended limited-release 70mm Ultra-Panavision “Roadshow” presentation with a overture and an intermission (Regal Atlantic Station 18), with a wide release starting Dec. 30 (Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, etc.).

We spoke with Michael Madsen by phone from his seaside California home.

ATLRetro: Let’s hear about THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Sure hope you’re not weary of talking about it.

Michael Madsen: Not really! It’s hard to get weary of Tarantino, who’s such a force to be reckoned with. This is the third time he’s reached out to me with, “Let’s get on the bus.” Only in this case it’s, “Let’s get on the horses!”

So, this is a western about characters who all get stranded together after their stagecoach is re-routed?

It’s pretty hard to put a lid on what it is, but it’s about a bunch of eight people who’ve got an agenda, an agenda that’s pretty complicated. The script was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever read. I guess it’s somewhere between THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) and THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967). 

Hateful-Eight-posterIs there any previous classic western movie to which it could easily be compared?

Well, maybe ONE-EYED JACKS (1967), which is probably the greatest western I’ve ever seen. It’s the only picture Marlon Brando ever directed, taking over from Stanley Kubrick. I just love it. ONE-EYED JACKS is about everything. There’s nothing that it isn’t about. There are so many themes in there, it’s mind-boggling. It’s one of Marlon’s finest. Him and Karl Malden are so wonderful together, it’s just unbelievable.

Karl Malden was fabulous in just about everything, from A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) to NEVADA SMITH (1966).

That was with Steve McQueen. What a power he was on the screen!  [Quoting NEVADA SMITH] “You haven’t got the guts!” Yeah, he’s shot in the kneecaps and it’s pretty horrendous, but, wow…

When I first moved to Malibu, I lived right next door to Steve McQueen. Steve was one of those guys who came along at time when the movie industry – when Sam Peckinpah and John Sturges and Norman Jewison were making films. Those kind of directors, they don’t really exist anymore. They were as much responsible for Steve’s success as he was himself, the combination of him, a personality like that, put together with those kinda directors. Steve was one of a kind and he made some – well, I like THE GETAWAY (1972). To me, that’s the quintessential Steve McQueen movie. I got to be in the remake of it, which was great, but I would have preferred to play Doc McCoy [McQueen’s role]. Alec [Baldwin] did a good job, but I think I coulda pulled that off.

The character of Doc in the original Jim Thompson novel THE GETAWAY has much more of an edge to him than in the films.

Well, I teased Alec constantly during the making of that thing. Every single time we were on the set and he was doing something, I’d go, “You remember the way Steve was standing?” or, “You remember the way Steve was holding the gun?” or “When you look around the corner, you remember how Steve did it?” and he’d go [imitating Baldwin’s voice], “Madsen! Shut up, Madsen! You’re driving me crazy.” It was really funny. I teased him quite a bit, but he had a good sense of humor about it. At the end of the film he actually bought and gave me the Smith & Wesson handgun that I used in the movie.

Speaking of firearms, will we be seeing much of the trademark Tarantino gunplay violence in HATEFUL EIGHT?

Oh, sure. Of course. Wouldn’t be the same without it.

Michael Madsen in HATEFUL EIGHT. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Michael Madsen in HATEFUL EIGHT. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Last year Tarantino was furious when his HATEFUL EIGHT script got leaked online, and you were one of the few insiders who’d been given a copy.

People actually thought it was me! I was in Italy at the time. My buddy and I were on an elevator, this was about 2 :00 in the morning and we’d just got back to the hotel, and he was looking at his phone, and all of sudden he goes, “Oh my god!” And I go, “What is it?” And he goes, “Oh, Michael, oh my god, somebody leaked out Quentin’s script and he’s all pissed off, and he says he only gave it to three people, and it wasn’t Tim [Roth].” And I was, like, “Holy shit, man, it sounds like I’m a suspect!” So I called him the next day and I said, “Quentin, man, say something to somebody, because obviously it wasn’t me.” And he started laughing actually. He thought it was funny that this had so quickly been heard about as far away as Italy, that the very next day it was worldwide news.

Not much later you participated in a staged public reading of the HATEFUL EIGHT script. Was Tarantino directing you live on stage?

Oh, he sure was, he had on a black cowboy hat and was coming over to the actors and giving them direction, right in front of everybody. Quentin read all the stage directions aloud. He had a coffee pot for a prop, and I had a bandana for my prop. It was a fascinating night. I’ve never done anything like that.

Did you rehearse for this?

Yeah, we rehearsed for three days before the show, and once in the afternoon right before the show. It was a lot of hustling around to get everybody together, but to have the whole cast together in one room and start reading through this thing, and putting it up on its feet, and to know now that we’re actually gonna go and film it later, it was a great, great, great kind of boost for me.

How did it feel to have that immediate feedback from the audience? People must have been laughing, reacting in various ways…

Well, everybody was very, very respectful. That’s what I remember. I’d seen everybody coming in, because I was in the back as the theater started to fill up, and I’d been looking out the windows in the front of the building, and everybody was all dressed up! It was really kind of an evening with all the girls all dolled up and guys dressed up. Nobody was allowed to bring their phone inside or have any kind of recording devices.

I heard that you don’t carry a cell phone. Is that still true?

I don’t like them, put it that way. I didn’t even get an iPad till about six months ago. I just really didn’t get the point of it. I would see people on their phones in the car, on their phone constantly, and when I had one myself it seemed like I became so dependent on it. I started wondering why does everyone need it so badly when no-one ever had it before, and back then everyone got along fine. Was it really that important to talk to somebody if you can call ‘em an hour later? But I have five kids, and I gotta have a phone,  but I frequently don’t charge it up and “accidentally” leave it somewhere, and I try really hard not to become obsessed with it.  I heard that Christopher Walken doesn’t have a cell phone, and he’s my hero; and if he honestly doesn’t – or if he’s just saying that to sound cool – I don’t know, but I’m hoping he really doesn’t have one.

Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Speaking of contemporary actors, you recently worked with Danny Trejo on a film called HOPE LOST. What was that like?

I’m not real fond of that title but, uh, it was shot in Rome and it’s basically about girls sold into the sex trade. The movie is a little rough, not for everyone. When you’re working on lower budget things, sometimes you have a bit more control over dialogue and scenes. In the original script I did some terrible things and got killed, but I didn’t end up doing that. My character lives, and I actually walk away from a bad situation at the end. Danny’s such a great actor and wonderful presence on screen. You walk the streets of Rome with Danny, and people come out of the restaurants shouting, “Machete! Machete!” Pretty funny. He’s Machete, no doubt about it. He’s got that mug!

I always wanted to see you cast as James Bond’s CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter, in the 007 series. That unfortunately didn’t happen, but you did get that nice supporting bit in DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002).

I loved working on that! Pierce Brosnan was a friend of mine and he lived right down the street from me, and that’s how that kinda happened. I went and I met [007 film producer] Barbara Broccoli, and they wanted to find a spot for me, and I did that one. I would have come back, I would have loved to. Judi Dench was such a great pleasure to work with. Having a Bond film as a credit is pretty cool. I’d like to do a few more.

You did an episode of HAWAII FIVE-O in 2014 which was notable because you were a bad guy who turned out to be a good guy.

What happened was, I’d heard there was some interest in having me on the show, and I was a huge, huge fan of the old show [the original HAWAII FIVE-O series which ran from 1968 to 1980]. That music, that opening title sequence is so bitchin’ and I remember watching that show most of my life, and just thought it was super cool. You can’t touch that thing. When they were interested in me, it was like a boyhood dream to be on HAWAII FIVE-O, but when they started calling me to do it, I said, “You know what, man, I’m not gonna come on the damn thing if you’re gonna kill me. There has to be something else. I’m gonna come in and get thrown down the steps by Scott Caan and then at the end get killed in a shoot-out. Please, please come up with something better for me.” And so, it really wasn’t until six months later after that conversation that they actually called me to do the show, and obviously when I read the script, the ending was the wonderful thing about it. You realize that this guy wasn’t such a bad person, and there’s this huge redemption, and that’s why I did it.  I’ve never seen the episode; I was out of the country when it aired. I got a lot of compliments from my family about it.

hell-ride-movie-poster-2008-1020412950You were crammed into the tiny backseat of that Chevy Camaro for much of the time.

Being trapped in a car with Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan is an interesting experience. Both of those guys are good actors and I had fun with them, but if they’re not complaining about being stuck in Hawaii, all they do is talk about cigars all day.

They complain about being in Hawaii?

These two guys, you gotta understand, were in their fourth season, and after that many episodes I would imagine that sooner or later it might start to get to you. I saw Scotty in the parking lot in the early, early morning on my first day, and I said,”Hey man, where’s a good place to eat?” And he goes, “L.A.!” [laughs]

Hey, you know who directed that episode? Peter Weller, ROBOCOP (1987)! Peter’s a really intelligent guy, and I really enjoyed working with him. He really gave me a wide berth, let me come in and do my thing. He understands the actor’s dilemma, and he’s very, very methodical in his direction of exactly how he wants certain things. I was lucky to have him there because I wanted that thing to matter, I wanted that to be a good episode, I was thrilled to be on it, and to have him direct it made it just that much better.

I’m betting that you personally own some cars that are cooler than Danno’s Camaro.

Well, over the years I certainly have had some interesting vehicles. I entertained my boyhood fantasies after I started making some money as an actor. I got a ’57 Chevy small block and put dual quads on the damn thing. I had a Stingray with a big block four-speed. I went through a couple of Plymouth Roadrunners and even a Superbird. The thing is, you get these cars that you’ve always dreamed about having, and you end up with flat tires and dead batteries. You can’t really drive them that much, and you have to keep them somewhere, and it ends up being an expense that doesn’t make sense, especially if you have children. A lot of my toys are gone. I let most of them go. The last one I had was a ’67 GTO; that was really pretty cool. I bought it from the original owner. I got a couple motorcycles and I still have my Jaguar, but I’ve recently – funny you should say – I’ve recently started to get that feeling again. Wouldn’t be nice to have a nice 427 Chevelle downstairs? Nice fuckin’ four-speed convertible. I was even thinkin’ of getting something for my son, something we can build together.

Are you a liquor guy or a beer guy?

I’m not any one thing.  I think drinking is one of those things that requires moderation.  I like to have some wine with dinner, but I’m not like a big drinker. If I’m flying on a plane, I’ll have a Jack and Coke. If I’m out with my wife and I don’t have to drive anywhere, I’ll have a martini. If I’m with my sons watching a game, I’ll drink a beer. But I’m not…

You’re not Charles Bukowski or anything.

Jesus, no!

Reservoir_dogs_ver1Or Lee Marvin.

[Laughs] You know, I’m very fond of Lee Marvin. That fuckin’ guy, he had such a – you look at CAT BALLOU (1965) or POINT BLANK (1967) – he really, really had a tremendous screen presence, and whenever you read a little bio of him, they have to throw in that last little line about him being a heavy drinker. You kinda wonder, is it really necessary to highlight that particular part of his personality? Most of the guys from that era were drinkers. Look at Dean Martin in the Matt Helm movies – he was hammered, and you can tell when you watch the movie! All of those guys were drinkers back then, and nobody thought there was anything wrong with it.

You have over a hundred screen credits. If you could pick three that you feel were unjustifiably overlooked, and get them re-appraised, which movies would they be?

I did a boxing picture called STRENGTH AND HONOUR (2010), playing an Irish-American prizefighter, probably one of the better pictures I’ve ever done, and it never got a proper release. It was actually finished at the same time as Mickey Rourke’s huge comeback, THE WRESTLER (2008).  I spoke to the director and he told me about trying to get it a second life, and how some investors convinced him he should re-release it in 3D. I was speechless! I hung up on him.

In addition, I did a cop picture called VICE (2008) which was shot by Andrzej Sekula, who was the director of photography on RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION (1994). I rewrote the beginning and the ending, and then I got Darryl Hannah into it and had a lot to do with the whole production. It’s a slow, quiet film but it’s about redemption, and I dedicated it to Chris Penn [Madsen’s RESERVOIR DOGS co-star] because he had passed away when I was making it.

And HELL RIDE! That came out on DVD, and people didn’t really know what it was. Now it’s become kind of a cult thing. The plot doesn’t make any sense, but it’s fun to watch. Those are three of them, right off the top of my head.

I know that you own your character’s motorcycle from HELL RIDE. Did you keep anything else? Do you have, say, the Zippo lighter from RESERVOIR DOGS?

As a matter of fact, Quentin has that. He has the razor, too. It’s the exact same razor that Uma Thurman uses in KILL BILL, when she’s buried alive. Mister Blonde’s razor! Quentin’s real good about keeping stuff. I’ve got a lot of clothes. I have Mister Blonde’s suit.

Tarantino must have been a big fan of John Dahl’s KILL ME AGAIN (1989)an earlier film where you tie somebody up and get rough with them.

There’s a strange story. Originally I remembered him telling me that that’s where he got the idea for me to be Mister Blonde, but I did a cable talk show many years ago and said that, and later when I ran into him he told me that was not why he’d cast me as Mister Blonde. KILL ME AGAIN was a good movie, but nobody saw it. John Dahl, man, John Dahl in his glory. Whatever happened to John Dahl? He’s vanished. I was supposed to do RED ROCK WEST (1993) with him, and then he opted for Nick Cage, and that’s where my relationship with John went south!

There was once talk of you and John Travolta reprising your roles from RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION in a prequel, in which your characters were brothers.

The Vega brothers! Well, you know John and I are not kids any more. I was at the Cannes Film Festival recently, hanging around with Quentin, when I finally met John. Now that the two of us have been standing together in the same room with Quentin, I think the idea became a little more interesting, more timely. I don’t think it would necessarily be a prequel, but I do think him and me together in some capacity, in a reminder of the other two pictures, is a lot more possible now. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? But you’ll have to ask Quentin about that.

One final question: Have you thought about doing any directing?

You know what? I just finished a Roger Corman picture called COBRAGATOR (2015). I love Roger! His movies are sci-fi pictures, and there is something about a Roger Corman film that’s different from the rest of that genre. Working for him is a pleasure, and I did get to do some directing in it, and I got a great deal of pleasure out of it. I realized that I’ve been wanting to direct forever, but nobody’s ever asked me to do it. The hard thing about it is you need that breakout, you need someone to actually say, “Okay, you get to direct this movie,” but if you haven’t ever done it before, there’s always that doubt. Can he really do it? Can he actually direct? Which, obviously, I could. I’d love to do that. I hope it’s in my future. I would like to do that a lot.    

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kats of the Week: Atlanta Filmmakers Jayson Palmer and Chris Ethridge Raise THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER, World Premiere at Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jan 9th, 2014 By:

THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER, a new locally produced independent horror film, will have its World Premiere at the Plaza Theatre on January 14 at 7  pm and 9:45 pm. Both screenings will be followed by Q&As with filmmakers Jayson Palmer and Chris Ethridge, as well as cast members Nicholas Brendon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), Robert Pralgo (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES) and Amber Chaney (THE HUNGER GAMES). Tiffany Shepis (THE FRANKENSTEIN SYNDROME) and Cat Taber (STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS) are also in the movie.

Georgia’s tax breaks for film production not only have attracted Hollywood shoots and high-profile TV series, but also have created a vibrant environment for local independent filmmakers including horror. Jayson and Chris’s previous collaborations include a video for the band Fader Vixen and the short film  SURVIVOR TYPE, based on the Stephen King short story of the same time. This time, however, they are finally going full feature with a suspenseful yarn about a series of ritualistic murders which rattle the small town of Morningside, NJ.  Without revealing any spoilers, the Sheriff and his deputy embark on a desperate race against time to catch the killer, pitting them against friends, enemies and even each other.

ATLRetro have had our eye on this dynamic duo for a while so we thought it was high time to make them Kool Kats of the Week!

Chris Ethridge/

ATLRetro: What’s the story behind THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER? It’s the first full feature collaboration between you and Chris, right?

Jayson: THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER started out as a short story that I wrote around 1995 for a project my friend Mike was making as a college art project. He took a bunch of my short stories and made these really nice leather-bound books. Only two of those books exist, as far as I know. It was a much different story than it is now.

After Chris and I made our short film adaptation of Stephen King’s SURVIVOR TYPE, we wanted to do a feature. Something good, but that could be done on a limited budget. I told him about MORNINGSIDE, and he said show me a script.

Without giving away any major spoilers, what’s the basic plot and how does it fit into the horror/suspense genre? Any key influences? Movies? Filmmakers?

Jayson: THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER is definitely my nod at my love of slasher films. Although I wouldn’t label it a straight-up slasher, fans of the subgenre will certainly be able to spot the influence. It’s a masked killer disposing of victims in a small town.

Chris: In fairness to Jay, it was probably even more slasher on the page. I pushed it a little bit in the direction of dramatic horror/thriller, because that’s the type of films I like to make.  I think we tried – hopefully with some success! – to walk the line of honoring the genre while also digging into the characters a little more than you might normally see in a slasher flick.

Jayson Palmer.

For an indie, you scored quite a few name actors for this production, such as Nicholas Brendan, Amber Chaney and Robert Pralgo. Can you talk a bit about that?

Chris: It was a little bit of a domino effect.  We approached Rob first, because we knew him from the Atlanta film community.  Rob agreed to come on board the project, and he recommended Amber and Catherine Taber. Through Cat, we met Jeff Hightower, a casting director in LA, who helped us approach Nicholas.  We have another friend who helped us connect with Tiffany Shepis.  We just wanted to find the best cast to fill the roles, and we were extraordinarily fortunate to get the actors we did.

ATLRetro is a huge Buffy fan. What’s your favorite experience working with Nicholas?

Chris: I’m a huge Buffy fan as well.  Nicholas is an effortlessly funny guy, and he is a talented professional.  When the cameras roll, he just immediately turns into his character and delivers an amazing performance, every single take.  It was a pleasure to work with him.

Jayson, you’re from NJ. How did that play into your decision to do a NJ setting? Did you film it all in Atlanta? Or did you do some locations in NJ?

Jayson: Yeah, I’m a Jersey boy through and through. Morningside, the fictional town in the film is totally based on Wharton, the small town I grew up in. Chris is not from Jersey, but he captures the small town look and feel perfectly. There are some scenes that almost make me completely forget it was filmed in Georgia.

We imagine you didn’t have a lot of money to work with, it being an indie feature. Did you use crowd-sourcing or did you go the traditional route with credit cards and investors? What was the biggest challenge on your budget and how did you solve it?

Chris: All of the above.  We had a crowd-sourcing campaign, some traditional investors, and we filled in the gaps at the end with credit cards.  The biggest challenge is finding talented crew who are willing to put in the hours on a small or even deferred salary.  We were so lucky to be able to find some amazing people who just wanted to work on a good project.  We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who spent even just a day on our set to make the movie happen.

A scene from THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER.

What’s happening at the premiere and is there any difference between what you have planning at both screenings? Or will it just be different questions?

Jayson: There is no difference between the 7:00 pm and 9:45 pm screenings. Of course, the Q&A will be different, but that’s only due to different audience, different questions.

What are a few horror movies that really grabbed you as a kid and why?

Jayson: As a child, I hated horror movies – mainly because I had a sadistic older brother and cousin who enjoyed scaring the crap out of me when ever they could. One day I put in THE SHINING (1980) and said, “I’m getting over this fear.” I’m not sure if that was the best film to use as my start on the road to recovery, but it certainly sparked my imagination and got the gears turning. Horror films still scare me, but I feel if I can’t beat them, I might as well make them share in my nightmares.

Chris: I distinctly remember sneaking over to a friend’s house to watch A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987) when I was maybe 11. I’m sure it was the first real horror film I ever saw.  I can viscerally recall, even now, how that movie made me feel, the scares and the thrills.  THE LOST BOYS (1987) was another one of those great ’80s horror films I grew up on.

Jayson, you started making movies as a kid with your action figures, German Shepherd and friends. Did you shoot video or super 8? What’s your favorite or funniest memory of that time?

Jayson: My dad had this old video camera from the 1980s that we used. This thing was a beast. You had the camera itself, which weighed about 10 pounds. Then you had to carry around an entire VCR in a shoulder satchel to record onto and this 20-pound battery to power it all.

My friend Andrew and I would spend our summers making movies. ROBOCOP (1987) was one of our favorite movies, and we decided to make ROBOCOP 2. It was just him and I. I was RoboCop, complete with Skateboard Helmet, elbow and knee pads, and I had this big puffy winter jacket for the body armor. God, it was so silly, but so much fun. I still have those tapes somewhere, and they will probably only see the light of day again after I’m dead.

Chris Ethridge and the intrepid police officers of Morningside, NJ.

How did you start making movies, Chris?

Chris: My first experience with filmmaking was a film studies class in college, where I made a really terrible and pretentious short film about a pair of hit men on Super 8.  I did not love the process at the time.  After college in Virginia, I moved to Athens, GA, and had an large amount of time on my hands, so I began watching indie films. At some point, I had the same moment of clarity that everyone else who ever wanted to make film has – “I can do this better.”  This, of course, is a lie, and it took well over a decade of making shorts before I finally got to the point where I felt like I was truly happy with the quality of work I was making.  The work of the last few years is the easily the best, most accomplished material I’ve ever made, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that it has occurred during the period of time I have been working with Jayson.

Jayson, your production company is called Lobster Boy Productions. There has got to be a story behind that name.

Jayson: When I was in high school I sang in a punk band called Hodgepodge. We were getting to release a 7” single and needed a record label. Our drummer had just got back from the shore and was bright red with sunburn, so we started calling him Lobster Boy. Then it clicked, let’s call the label Lobster Boy Records. Since I was in charge of all the promotion and PR stuff, everyone started to call me Lobster Boy. I then began to put on shows for up and coming punk bands in New Jersey under the name Lobster Boy Productions. The nickname stuck and I have been using it since.

These days the company is Blue Dusk, that’s the one Chris and I started. But I will always be the Lobster Boy.

Both you and Chris are big Stephen King reader/fans, so I know SURVIVOR TYPE was like a dream come true for you. What’s up with that film now?

Jayson: Making SURVIVOR TYPE was my biggest geek moment! That was the story that really turned me onto King! So to have the opportunity to turn it into a film was, as you say, a dream come true.

The film was made under Mr. King’s Dollar Baby program, which allows up-and-coming filmmakers to use the nonexclusive  rights to some of his stories. Since they are nonexclusive, you can only show the film at festivals and as part of your portfolio. We did the festival run a few years ago, so unless Mr. King decides to allow the world to see it, most likely it will stay in the same foot locker my old ROBOCOP movies are hidden.

Are you taking THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER out on a festival run? When will it be available on DVD?

Chris: Absolutely, we are in the process of festival submissions right now.  We’ve had some definite interest in screening at some conventions, and we are even looking at potentially doing a small theatrical tour.  We are also in the midst of finalizing a distribution deal, and we are hoping for it to be out on DVD and VOD platforms sometime in the summer, but we don’t have a release date set at this time.

Finally, what’s next for you both?

Jayson: All good things to those who wait.

Tickets to both screenings of THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER are available at the door and in advance at http://themorningsidemonster.brownpapertickets.com/

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mall Insecurity: Just A Few More Chopping Days Left Until Splatter Cine-mas at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Dec 9th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents CHOPPING MALL (1986); Dir. Jim Wynorski; Starring Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Barbara Crampton, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov; Tuesday, Dec. 10 @ 9:30 (photos and merch table open @ 9); Plaza Theater; Trailer here; Facebook Event Page here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

In the middle of the holiday season, when shopping centers are teeming with masses of bargain-hungry consumers, who doesn’t wish that a few bloodthirsty killbots could be unleashed to thin out the crowds? Look no further than the Plaza Theatre for some vicarious thrills as Splatter Cinema presents CHOPPING MALL!

You know, there was a time when a Jim Wynorski movie meant something. Granted, it didn’t mean much. But you knew what you were getting when you saw his name on the screen—an exploitation movie that didn’t take itself seriously in the least, and that sent itself and the genre up for affectionate ribbing. In short, a kind of low-rent Joe Dante flick (which makes sense, as both directors came from the benches of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures farm team). This is best exemplified in his two most fully-realized movies: his 1983 feature debut THE LOST EMPIRE (a comic variation on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME but with a lot more nudity) and his more successful follow-up, CHOPPING MALL.

CHOPPING MALL answers the age-old question, “what would happen if mall security was handled by robots, and a freak lightning storm caused them all to go kill-crazy on a bunch of teens partying in a furniture store after-hours?” This question has plagued theologians, philosophers and scientists for centuries, and finally found all of its potential ramifications explored in full, rich, intellectual detail in the hands of Jim Wynorski. The answer, of course, is “well, the kids would start dying in hilariously bloody ways, and it would look a lot like DAWN OF THE DEAD if, instead of zombies, there were really cheap robots that looked kind of like Number 5 from SHORT CIRCUIT, yet acted like the ED-209 from ROBOCOP.”

Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov in CHOPPING MALL (1996).

Wynorski’s direction is perfectly adequate for this. It’s not pushing any envelopes or even trying to be groundbreaking in any way, but it’s tight and well-paced, creating a fun sense of tension while at the same time allowing you to chuckle at the complete outlandishness of it all. The movie hides its cheapness reasonably well, making the most of its Sherman Oaks Galleria setting, and features a host of familiar faces to distract you from the low budget. Among the teens getting slaughtered are Kelli Maroney from NIGHT OF THE COMET, Tony O’Dell from HEAD OF THE CLASS, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2’s Russell Todd and scream queen Barbara Crampton of RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND fame. Cameos are provided by the always-welcome Dick Miller (as Walter Paisley, his character name from A BUCKET OF BLOOD) and the delightful team of Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov, reprising their roles of EATING RAOUL’s Paul and Mary Bland.

In short, CHOPPING MALL is just a whole hell of a lot of fun, and one of the better (and bloodier) ways to blow off steam this time of year. If you want to turn your over-taxed, shopped-out brain off and have a riotously good time, you could hardly do better than watching a shopping mall turn against the idiots populating it. And don’t forget to show up early and get your photo taken in a gore-filled recreation of one of the movie’s scenes! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Retro Review: Neat Ideas and Savage Candy: Deeply, Cooly Sicko TOTAL RECALL Pushes Boundaries for a Perfect Last Good-Bye to 1980s Sci-Fi Cinema

Posted on: Jun 3rd, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents TOTAL RECALL (1990); Dir. Paul Verhoeven; Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside; Tuesday, June 11 @ 9:30 p,m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Robert Emmett Murphy
Contributing Writer

TOTAL RECALL, released at the dawn of the new decade of the 1990s, is without a doubt the capstone of the SF film aesthetic of the decade it was leaving behind. It is also one of the finest of the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicles and earned the distinction of being, up to that point, one of the most expensive, and profitable, films ever made. Just the next year, another Arnie flick, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, would define the aesthetic of the coming decade, and dwarf both TOTAL RECALL’s $60 million dollar budget and $260 million worldwide gross.

Paired, these two films represent remarkable transitional pieces, demonstrated in how they pushed the then-contemporary limits in FX technologies. TOTAL RECALL’s special makeup effects were by Rob Bottin, and its visual effects by Eric Brevig. Their labor represents very nearly the last mega-budget efforts of techniques and technologies about to be made obsolete when computer graphics (only nominally represented in this film) took over the whole industry. They were eye-popping at the time, but somewhat rubber and plastic looking now. T2, with the silver-liquid-metal killer robot, was the fist masterpiece of the revolution. Though CG made the canvas of what could be realized, and how well it could be realized, almost infinitely larger, if you leave the new tech’s masterpieces aside, there’s no doubt that a rubbery solid has a more real feel than today’s most-often-run-of-the-mill pixelation.

Both films also pushed the boundaries of narrative sophistication allowed in the escapist. T2 is undeniably the greater of the two, featuring richer characterization, a more complex plot with fewer loopholes, and more maturity in its take on a shared anti-authoritarian credo. T2 didn’t asset that our dependency on the maintenance of systems and hierarchies were injustices in-of-themselves and didn’t embrace the ideology of scarcity-as-myth. It recognized that the motives of those who commit (often inadvertent) harm often have legitimacy, nor did it deny the reality of the imperfectness in conduct of even the good guys. Yet TOTAL RECALL, so richly cheesy, so lavishly textureless (except the slick texture of spraying blood), and so deeply, morally corrupt in such a friendly, innocent way, is the better time-capsule of the society that produced it.

The Schwarenegger Effect and a Passion for Perversity

As an actor, Arnie was beloved by directors who wanted an appealing hero embodied in someone who wouldn’t distract from visual ideas by creating inappropriately humanistic identities. He was perfectly matched with TERMINATOR director James Cameron, but even more so here with Paul Verhoeven. I should make it clear, though, that Arnie hired Verhoeven, not the other way around. Arnie bought the rights after the film had languished in production hell for almost 15 years. Still, clearly his casting of himself was a defter choice than other, better, actors who’d been considered like Richard Dreyfuss and William Hurt (to say nothing of Patrick Swayze). Of course, those actors would’ve been cast in much different versions of the script, which had been rewritten some 40 times. Reportedly the final version was very close to the first version, while all those in-between had strayed into inappropriate attempts at distracting psychological depth.

Quaid/Hauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger) takes a ride in a Johnny Cab in TOTAL RECALL. TriStar Pictures, 1990.

Both Verhoeven and Cameron have demonstrated a passion for the SF genre and world-building detail (my favorite in TOTAL RECALL was the Johnny Cabs, which even in 1990 provided a charming anachronistic poke at what the future likely won’t be). They also share a flair for offhanded satire and sleekly complex executions of muscular action scenes. However, Verhoeven had something Cameron lacked – a penchant for perversity. Perversity is what Arnie’s films always seemed to want to wallow in but were generally too timid to indulge. In T2, Cameron’s only perversity was to make the most violent pacifist film in history. TOTAL RECALL is much more deeply, cooly, sicko.

To call the violence gratuitous is like calling water wet, but Verhoeven showed a gift for an over-the-top comic-book harmlessness that camouflaged all but a whiff of the film’s obsessive sadism. He’d done it before, with ROBOCOP, but the movie was more serious-minded, more humanistic, and modestly more restrained. He did it after, in STARSHIP TROOPERS, but that film demanded something more serious-minded and humanistic than Verhoeven could pull off that week, so the balance was thrown off. TROOPERS ended up seeming uglier and meaner than this film, even though if you’re actually paying attention to its moral underpinnings, TOTAL RECALL should’ve been the more condemnable. TOTAL RECALL’s ability to make such unrestrained venality seem man-child-friendly is probably why it’s the most fondly remembered of the three (that, and it wasn’t demeaned by crappy sequels, but I’ll come back to the whole story behind that later).

Misty Watercolor Memories  of the Way We Weren’t

Arnie plays the improbable everyman, Douglas Quaid – who has too good a body, with too breathtakingly beautiful a wife, too fabulous an apartment, in too clean a city – to be what we are told he is: a construction worker. But he’s dissatisfied and distracted by vivid dreams of the planet Mars, so he goes to the movies and watches a fantasy about a James-Bond-type secret agent on the Red Planet. Except that this is the future, and instead of passively sitting in theater seats as we sad contemporaries do, he goes to the offices of Rekal Inc. and purchases elaborate fictional memories that are implanted in his head, so he can experience the fantasy as if it were real.

As they said on the poster to another SF classic, and nothing can go wrong…go wrong…go wrong…

Arnold goes to movies, Rekal-style! TriStar Pictures, 1990.

Nothing except maybe the fictional memories are too similar to real ones that have been deliberately, artificially, locked somewhere in Quaid’s subconscious where he can’t get them. The entertainment technology partially opens the doors of perception, and Quaid is now in touch with another identity, a real-but-forgotten self named Hauser, who actually is a James-Bond-type secret agent. Now that Quaid’s somewhat awake, of course, the bad guys want him dead. Quaid, the innocent, receives prerecorded instructions from his alter-self Hauser, and actually makes the trip to Mars to discover the truth about his identity and the conspiracy in which he’s all wrapped up.

Or alternately, Quaid’s still in the fantasy, suffering from something called a schizoid embolism, and the longer he plays out the fantasy scenario, the harder it will be to get back to the real world.

A Short and Clever Tale by Philip K. Dick Gets Bigger, Bolder

TOTAL RECALL is a loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” It preserves Dick’s main themes remarkably well, but in making a bigger, bolder, epic out of the short and clever tale, it shifts emphasis. Both film and story have great fun with the “is-it-real-or-is-it-not?” theme, but the always tortured Dick was more interested in the vulnerability and terror of middle-ground between the two, while here the script writers (there were five, but primarily Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon) and even more Verhoeven, focus on a he-man liberation from all moral constraints that only a wholly invented world can secure. The first terrible revelation to our hero comes when his wife admits she never really loved him, saying: “Sorry Quaid, your whole life is just a dream.” But in truth, he really doesn’t start enjoying himself until the curtains fall on that reality, as lifted on the newer, nastier, one.

Most of Verhoeven’s films speak of a man who longs for such a venue. ROBOCOP is the only one I can think of that was convincingly moralistic; most don’t even try. His cynicism about human nature is demonstrated even before the plot gets rolling. There’s a scene where Quaid’s impossibly beautiful wife, Lori (Sharon Stone) is coming on to him, kissing him and literally climbing on top of him, but he can’t take his eyes off the TV news. He’s mesmerized by a politely fanatical speech by Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), Mars’ wicked, corporate, planetary emperor, who is condemning a violent insurrection by vile mutants on Mars. It’s a typical Verhoeven scene, with no faith in love or relationship and insisting that all our familiar pleasures will become insufferable because of their familiarity, that we are constantly driven to the edge by our desire for newer, more terrible sensations.

Divorce TOTAL RECALL-style. Sharon Stone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in TOTAL RECALL. TriStar Pictures, 1990.

There’s also a lot of foreshadowing in this scene. Quaid’s distraction is honest, but Lori’s bitch-in-heat behavior is as fake as a whore’s orgasm, which, in a very convoluted way, it will turn out to be exactly what she is.We’ll also soon learn that everything is really about Cohaagen.

Verhoeven’s politics are disingenuously leftist and perfectly in tune with the twilight of Reaganism. Though the real-world Arnie would eventually become the wholly incompetent Republican Governor of California, his fictional counterpart would prove to be a liberator of the proletariat from the shackles of capitalism and display such a soulless penchant for terrorististic, mass-murdering virtue that he makes Che Guevara look like Mitt Romney. However, while the film’s manifesto is anti-corporate-hegemony and pro-labor, its heart is materialistic and misogynistic, an ideology where sex means nothing without dominating power, and dominating power isn’t sexy unless it’s brutally corrupt.

A mere 12 months later, when Arnie would return in T2, we were already in a more innocent era, anticipating Bill Clinton and a decade so honest, sincere, and without sin that even something as trivial as a blow-job could blow-up into a constitutional crisis.

Sophisticated SF Narrative Vs. Special Effects

The script of TOTAL RECALL is remarkably information dense. Though almost every shot seems to embody some sort of special effect, smart writing trumps the spectacle in many places. In several instances, characters get trapped outside Mars’ artificial environments, and the so-thin-it-is-almost-non-existent Martian atmosphere does the predictable nastiness to their bodies (predictable, but not especially scientifically accurate). These scenes featured eye-bulging, artery-bursting, FX dummies that were just plain silly-looking. On the other hand, in a dialogue-driven scene, Dr. Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith) tries to talk Quaid down from his delusion (“You’re not here, and neither am I”) – unless it’s not a delusion and the good doctor is trying to poison him. That scene proves to be one of the high points of the film.

Mutant Mother (Monica Steuer) in TOTAL RECALL. TriStar Pictures, 1990

And the narrative evolves in a sophisticated way, changing venues and accumulating characters that set motivation on a path of constant evolution. Quaid starts only wanting to know who he really is and how to stay alive. This quest leads him into a situation where he needs to take on the mantel of the leader of the revolution. Cohaagen’s abuse of workers in Mars’ artificial environments has produced a spectacular underclass of weird mutants including dwarves, co-joined twins, those disfigured by tumors, those sporting extra-limbs, the telepathic, and most memorably a whore named Mary (more about her later). Quaid will forget self-preservation and fight to end Cohaagen’s monopoly over resources that should be shared collectively by these huddled masses. Each step towards messianic-pseudo-Marxist-leadership is also a step closer to the secrets of his forgotten identity.

Without doubt, Verhoeven can do plot. It’s appropriately twisty, or as another review put it, “There are so many of them, you could probably miss one or two and grab another box of popcorn.”  But Verhoeven skillfully avoids tripping over his own threads.

Strong Casting for a Sci-Fi Film

Verhoeven is slick – but not without thought; soulless – but not without character. In fact, Verhoeven has a fine track record of drawing strong performances from actors playing very artificial parts. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the case in point. Never an accomplished actor, he rarely did more than use jokes to cover his inability to emote, but he still had tremendous screen presence. He could sell a Superman the way more talented thespians couldn’t. Here, almost shockingly, he even displays a very modest hint of semi-nuance that is lacking in any of his other roles except, well, T2. Underneath his “Superman” persona, he’s confused and frightened and vulnerable, a man betrayed by the structure of reality itself. “Who da hell em I?” says Quaid in a thick, heart-tugging, unaffected accent.

It helps that the rest of the cast is so very strong.

Lori (Sharon Stone) can be such a tease. TOTAL RECALL, TriStar Pictures, 1990.

Sharon Stone’s film career was already a decade old at this point, meaning that it was very likely nearing its end since her primary selling points were that she was beautiful and blonde. Though in IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES (1984), she demonstrated she was a gifted comic actress, no one seemed to notice, and she couldn’t elevate herself out of B (or C) movies and TV mediocrity. Here, her role was not only small, but exploitive and nasty – a lying lynx who offers sex, then tries to kill, then comes back an hour later and tries to kill again, gets in a cat-fight with another sexy whore, then gets dead. Yet absolutely every man was blown away by her ice-cold, predatory athleticism and tight-fitting and barely present wardrobe.

Verhoeven, who likes to use the same people both in front and behind the camera in film after film (TOTAL RECALL is ripe with ROBOCOP alumni) later gave her the lead in BASIC INSTINCT (1992), which was even sicker than this puppy, and overnight she achieved her long overdue super-stardom. She’d leave roles like this behind quickly (and in the process garner 13 awards and 20 nominations, including an Oscar nod), but there was a moment when she was the definition of the Hollywood Ice-Princess reborn and that moment started here.

Kickass Melina (Rachel Ticothin) is far better suited to Arnold Schwarenegger's action hero in TOTAL RECALL. TriStar Pictures, 1990.

Rachel Ticotin played Melina, the female romantic lead and other participant in the hot-and-bothered cat-fight with Sharon Stone. Her prescription, per the “Rekal” fantasy that Quaid dictated in the film’s opening scenes, was to be “dark-haired, athletic, sleazy and demure.” She pulled it off perfectly, notably being convincing while speaking the most lunatic romantic dialogue in history. In her first scene, she grabs Quaid’s crotch and hisses, “What have you been feeding this?” To which Quaid, more Hauser by the minute, quips, “Blondes.” Her luminous smile in response is as close to true love as you’ll ever see in a Verhoeven film. Up to a point, she’s as a perfect Verhoeven girl as Stone, one part empowered/two parts vice/seven parts objectified. But unlike Stone, he won’t use her again, possibly because she comes off a few degrees more real, and many times more street, than Stone’s (then) Ice-Princess persona. Perhaps she was not quite artificial enough for Verhoeven’s exquisitely surfacy aesthetics.

Ronny Cox wasn’t the first choice for Cohaagen. It was offered to Kurtwood Smith, who, with Cox, played one of the two main villains in ROBOCOP. Though the lion’s share of Cox’s roles are warm, noble and paternalistic, he clearly enjoyed the corporate baddies Verhoeven repeatedly cast him as. In this film, he and Michael Ironside are the two main villains. In obvious deference to Arnie’s acting talents, these two, not the hero, got the film’s few dramatic scenes.

Neat Ideas and Savage Candy

But enough about human talent in a film so inhumane, TOTAL RECALL was all about neat ideas and savage candy. The highlights:

  • In a plot point early on,Quaid has a tracking device in his head. The recorded Hauser tells him how to remove it – Reach into your nose with tweezers and pull really hard and really painfully. Rated high on the ICK! Factor.
  • There are endless, loud shoot-outs with big-assed automatic weapons plus explosives, both inappropriate choices in a pressurized environment. These conflicts justified the frequency of sucking people into the Martian near-vacuum which then justified the close-ups of the forementioned, eye-bulging, rubber FX dummies. It also justified the extreme body count; one review counted (yes, some reviewers sit in front of their TVs  and actually count this stuff) 77 dead bad guys. And that’s onlythe bad guys. The film showed rare indifference to the lives of innocent bystanders. It likely had an even higher collateral damage rate than the invasions of Grenada and Panama combined. The most memorable of these was during a shootout on an escalator, when cornered Arnie grabs some poor, random, commuter and uses him as a human shield. That guy gets reduced to Swiss cheese, and Arnie goes off to continue his one-man-war against wicked corporatism

    The Fat Lady loses her head and reveals Arnold Schwarenegger in TOTAL RECALL. TriStar Pictures, 1990.

  • Literally the only female in the film who is not a whore is a disgustingly obese tourist arriving at the Mars Spaceport inanely saying “Two weeks” over and over. Except she isn’t even a woman, but a cybernetic fat suit that malfunctions. In the eyeball-kick heavy film, the single best effect is the costume coming apart like a high-tech flower blossoming, revealing Quaid beneath. Quaid then throws the lady-head at a cop. The head speaks a snappy line and explodes, killing at least three people.
  • The dispatching of Sharon Stone is the stuff of woman-despising-legend. After Ms. Stone engages in three fights in five minutes, she’s prone helplessly before Arnie and pleading for her life. “We’re married,” she says. Arnie snickers, “Conseeder dis a divorce,” and machine-guns her.
  • Arnie has many such bloodthirsty quips. In one scene, he dispatches another friend who betrayed him with a miner’s hydraulic drill to the gut, gleefully shouting, “Screw you!”
  • Mary the whore with the three tits, every fanboy's fantasy in TOTAL RECALL. TriStar Pictures, 1990.

    And let’s not forget Lycia Naff, who has the smallest of parts, but secured much of the film’s fame. She played a whore (what else) named Mary who was in only two scenes, totaling less than four lines of dialogue, and exposed her breasts to strangers both times. Yet ask any man who was an adolescent in 1990 if he remembers the film, and he’ll no doubt answer, “Yeah, that’s the one with the chick with three boobies.” (If you watch the DVD version, don’t miss out on the commentary track where Verhoeven nobly attempts to intellectualize the triceratits). Mary is killed by Michael Ironside’s character Richter in a manner that is both callous and sexually demeaning.

  • Richter gets his comeuppance in a fistfight on an elevator platform. He loses his balance, falls, saves himself by grabbing the edge—until the platform rises to the next floor, cutting both of his arms off, leaving his forearms with Arnie as souvenirs. And of course, the noble hero calls to the falling man, “See you at the party, Richter!”

And I should say, this is only the sickness we got AFTER the film was cut to avoid an X-Rating. God knows what the unrestrained version looked like.

All this mayhem and no real people does eventually take its toll. There’s no denying the last third is warmed-over and derivative. For a movie that had delivered so many surprises both in plot and inventive detail, the routine conclusion is banal, protracted, idiocy. Arnie/Quaid/Hauser’s saving all the good people of the planet is logically feasible only to some schmuck who also ascribes to Young-Earth Creationism. But if you pay close attention though the explosions and thunderous score (by Jerry Goldsmith, who considers it one of his personal favorites), plenty of clues suggest on which side over the what-is-reality fence you should be standing and that the seeming dopiness of the last several minutes might actually be meta-fiction Easter egging.

The Sequel That Never Was or Was It? And the Remake That Shouldn’t Have Been

TOTAL RECALL grossed almost 100 million over budget outlay, so why wasn’t there a sequel? Well…

There was supposed to be. The idea was to take another Dick story as the launching point and tell the tale of Quaid getting in trouble with authorities again. You see, properly integrated in society, those telepathic mutants are useful. They can bring down the homicide rate by solving crimes and punishing the guilty before the killing even takes place.

Does this plot sound somewhat familiar?

With Verhoeven returning to the Netherlands after a string of commercial disappointments (starting with 1995’s SHOWGIRLS, perhaps the most sexually exploitive and misogynistic feminist film in history) and Arnie entering politics by the end of that decade, the project proceeded without them. It mutated into something unrecognizable and was released in 2004 as MINORITY REPORT. The script by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen was tight and hugely ambitious, the film was beautifully directed by Steven Spielberg, and Tom Cruise is simply a more talented lead. Yet the greater film did not burn into our collective memory the way TOTAL RECALL did.

TOTAL RECALL’s place in our culture was probably additionally secured by how it towered over its ill-conceived remake of last year. That stared Colin Farrell who is clearly a better actor than Arnie, but does not have as much charisma. Overall the characterization is flatter than the original, odd given how the original was almost smug about its lack of character depth. This new movie sold itself as “darker,” but that wasn’t really accurate. What they really meant to say was that it was humorless, and the violence, now mostly committed against robots, was heavily sanitized. The politics in the original was disingenuous, but also bolder in its relationship to real-world class conflict. In the remake, the good-guys vs bad-guys is a more nationalistic battle modeled on the aggressive wars of 19th century imperialism and Australia’s struggles with the British Commonwealth; thus it is far more nostalgic and far less provocative. It’s also wholly Earth-bound, losing the original story’s dreams of Mars and the first film’s Mars locations. The remake also ditches every single mutant except the “chick with three boobies,” who now has little explanation for being there. No aliens either – I didn’t mention them above, but aliens were important in both the original story and the first film. The $125 million dollar budget, adjusted for inflation, was really not much more than the 1990 release, but the movie grossed a mere $199 million, or less than half the original film’s inflation-adjusted business.

Robert Emmett Murphy Jr. is 47 years old and lives in New York City. Formerly employed, he now has plenty of time to write about movies and books and play with his cats.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Retro Review: It’s a Bug Hunt! Splatter Cinema Infests the Plaza Theatre with STARSHIP TROOPERS!

Posted on: Mar 11th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997); Dir. Paul Verhoeven; Starring Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer and Neil Patrick Harris; Tuesday, Mar. 12 @ 9:30 p,m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema returns to Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre this month with that enduring tale of Man vs. Bug: Paul Verhoeven’s STARSHIP TROOPERS. But lurking beneath the shimmering surface of blood and insect guts is a knowingly subversive take on Robert Heinlein’s classic novel of military science fiction.

It’s safe to say that Robert A. Heinlein is one of the most influential authors to ever work within the sci-fi genre. This is not to say he’s universally loved, mind you. Certainly, the man’s got as many detractors as acolytes. But through the years, his provocative output has inspired many others to create works in response, whether furthering his themes and ideas or standing in stark contrast to them. And the novel that best exemplifies this aspect of his art is the polarizing STARSHIP TROOPERS.

First published in 1959, STARSHIP TROOPERS was written by Heinlein largely as an attempt to explain his political thinking at the time. Under attack from others within the sci-fi community for his increasingly conservative and pro-nuclear testing stances, he took time off from writing what would become STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND and sought to clarify his positions through this novel.

The book was extremely successful, winning the 1960 Hugo Award for Best Novel and continuing to sell strongly in the decades after its initial printing. It also almost single-handedly created the sub-genre of military science fiction. However, it likewise sparked a hailstorm of criticism that continues to this day. The novel’s staunchly nationalistic pro-military and pro-war stances came across as borderline fascistic to a number of people—a number that included screenwriter Ed Neumeier and director Paul Vershoeven. Reuniting 10 years after their collaboration on the similarly satirical ROBOCOP, the pair set out to not only send up the militaristic and jingoistic aspects of Heinlein’s novel (and similarly themed action films as a whole), but to make an explicitly anti-war film and—by extension—to say (as Verhoeven puts it in the film’s DVD commentary) that “war makes fascists of us all.”

A bug alien skitters behind marine hero Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) in STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997), based on the iconic 1959 Robert Heinlein novel.

Superficially, this is a glorious action film. It follows young recruit Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) as he rises through the ranks of the military during a war against the arachnid inhabitants of the desert planet Klendathu, which began when the bugs lobbed an asteroid into the city of Buenos Aires, killing millions. He initially joins to impress his girlfriend, pilot Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), but finds himself swept up into war after the destruction of his home city. The film is filled with expertly-shot and edited action sequences, as armies of humans and insects are slaughtered en masse. It’s bloody, and it’s slimy, and brains get sucked out of people’s heads and stuff blows up real good. The film’s pace never lets up once things are set into motion. It’s fast, funny, tense and terrifying. It’s practically everything an over-the-top action movie ought to be.

But it’s also peppered with shots lifted from Leni Reifenstahl’s TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, clothing inspired by Nazi uniforms, architecture inspired by Albert Speer and propaganda-styled military recruitment ads disguised as news items. Verhoeven, who grew up in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, cleverly appropriates these familiar elements and uses them as satirical and hyperbolic weapons in order to attack glorification of military might and nationalism. This is much along the lines of what he and Neumeier previously did in ROBOCOP, using the trappings of a conventional action picture to slyly send up commercialism, the mass media and the trend toward privatization of previously public works. Verhoeven and Neumeier reference these WWII-era touchstones in order to detail the militaristic and war-driven society that Heinlein presented in his novel as practically a utopia, and how they see that road as eventually leading to fascism.

A proto-Nazi-uniformed Neil Patrick Harris inspects a captured alien in STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997).

Of course, it’s not easy to sell a film in which your heroes end up fighting for a society that the filmmakers keep trying to depict as intrinsically evil, and in which Neil Patrick Harris, of all people, eventually winds up wearing an SS uniform. As a result, the movie wound up being nearly as polarizing as Heinlein’s novel, with many reviewers inaccurately (according to the filmmakers) reading the film as a celebration of fascism instead of the subversive critique Verhoeven and Neumeier intended. However, Verhoeven’s technical mastery has resulted in the film’s enduring legacy as one of the great contemporary action films, regardless of its political aims. Its success at the box office has resulted in three sequels, a computer-animated television series, a board game, several video games, a TROOPERS-themed pinball machine and graphic novel adaptations.

So enjoy STARSHIP TROOPERS on any of its many levels: as a straight-up no-holds-barred sci-fi action flick, as a witty take on action films, as an anti-war movie or as a subversive satire of Heinlein’s novel. Any way you take it, it’s a whole helluva lot of fun.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

30 Days of The Plaza, Day 26: Dead or Alive, You’re Coming With Me! ROBOCOP Rises Again at Splatter Cinema Sat. Sept. 8

Posted on: Sep 6th, 2012 By:

Splatter Cinema Presents ROBOCOP (1987); Dir: Paul Verhoeven; Starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen and Dan O’Herlihy; Sat. Sept. 8; 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Thomas Drake
Contributing Writer

Short: “I’ll buy that for a dollar.” “Dead or Alive, You’re coming With Me!”

Medium: Murphy (Peter Weller) is an old school cop who is part of a privatized police force in a decaying old Detroit. Detroit has been bought by the megaconglomerate, OCP, which plans to rebuild her in their shining image. Two competing robotics projects change Murphy’s life forever when the Ed-9000 project goes haywire and kills a major OCP exec, causing Project Robocop to initiate.  Murphy is fatally wounded in the line of duty, and since he is now an OCP employee, his corpse is OCP property as well. They turn him into a cyborg with three laws: “Serve the Public Trust”; “Protect the Innocent”; “Uphold the Law.”

Robocop is a hit with the locals and cleans up against the bad guys. However, the brain of Murphy begins having flashbacks of his former life.  Meanwhile, a vengeful OCP employee turns against Robocop to sabotoge the project and supplies street gangs with military weapons. Shenanigans.

Maximum Verbosity: When I try to explain the subgenre of cyberpunk to Slines, they look confused at the mention of  NEUROMANCER or SNOWCRASH.  Then I say ROBOCOP, and they usually get that. ROBOCOP was a pioneer of movies like it – a dark future where corporations ruled, near enough to feel familiar but far enough that they had the freedom to radically change society.  We do, in fact, have corporations buying up cities, influencing elections, and gaining a dominant hand in our daily lives.  We do, in fact, have anthro-modeled drones with guns being put together by the military to shoot people in war.  We do, in fact, have cyborgs with mind-linked artificial limbs; some of which are being developed for the military. We do, in fact, have privatized police forces.  We do, in fact, have “reality television” with interactive audience participation where they can indeed “buy that for a dollar.” In fact, we do have situations where corporations can require their citizens to sign away their basic rights that have been upheld by the federal courts. People like to talk about how prophetic BLADE RUNNER or MINORITY REPORT were about the direction things are going, but ROBOCOP is batting a much higher average.

Of course, the movie is not real life. Reality is much more nuanced and complicated; but at the same time, ROBOCOP is also very complicated and nuanced. On the basic surface, it’s just a standard action flick; bad guys wrong heroic cop; heroic cop fights them, gets the evidence and stops the bad guys. Sure, he’s a ROBOcop, but he’s still basically a cop. Indeed, ROBOCOP is basically just a cop movie; that’s the formula it follows.  In some ways you could ALMOST plug in bits of it (albiet badly) into most any cop movie and have it kind of work here. Eddie Murphy in armor anyone?

But beneath this surface, there is a complicated political statement being made about free enterprise vs the public good. It asks questions about what lines should be crossed? How far will we let corporations go?  Should we be allowed to sign away our rights?  Make no mistake, there is a thriving black market for organs, and there are many who are pushing to allow private citizens to sell their organs for a profit – living or dead.  Since corporations frequently take out life insurance policies on their employees, why not claim a profit on their organs if they die on the job?

The best manifestation of this lies in the media coverage and snarky commercials that weave between the major scenes. This is where the ROBO (sci fi) part of ROBOCOP really shines. You see the future (well…present now) of news. You see that the past is the present is the future in terms of how commercials work and what is sold. They set the tone of the action flick that makes it much more than an armored guy going around shooting people. Indeed, at its core, Robocop is really about what it means to be a human. Is it our memories? Murphy loses those at first, but they slowly come back. Is there a ghost in the machine? Is there a soul somewhere in our meat suit?  The movie struggles with these questions as Murphy watches his family from afar, cursed to only be able to watch his former family but unable to confront them based on the Frankenstein monster that he has become.

Peter Weller and Kurtwood Smith in ROBOCOP. Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures Corp. 1987

The play of the laws is also exceedingly well done and a fantastic nod to Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Indeed, ROBOCOP, much like Asimovian robots, has a secret “zeroth” law, though these two are diametically opposed. Asimovian robots are compelled to serve humanity as a whole. OCP robots are compelled to serve their corporation executives at the exclusion of the innocent, the law or the public trust.

The contrast couldn’t be more clear.

Peter Weller’s performance as Murphy is fantastic. He sets the bar so high that I doubt the remake will really do the character justice by comparison. Equally impressive is the rather understated performance of his partner played by Nancy Allen. She doesn’t have much screen time, but she is the foil that encourages Murphy to see himself more as a man and less as just a machine. A bond forms between them, and she also gives the audience a connection to the character. As a sidekick she’s pretty damn impressive, especially compared to the abilities exhibited by Robocop himself. The entire cast does a fantastic job, but I’d like to make a special shout out to the crime boss played by Kurtwood Smith, who knocks it out of the park as a bad guy who is both a stereotype and an extremely complex character at the same time.  Smith has gone on to do some very impressive work since then.

As a side note, if you like to see bad guys turned to goo and properly punished for their arrogance – shot, stabbed, burned and maimed – this is a movie for you. Eighties movies were very good at this kind of thing, and ROBOCOP delivers it wholesale.  It is a movie that makes you think, makes you feel, and makes you cackle with glee at the destruction of evil. If you’re into that kind of thing

Category: Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2019 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress