On this day in 1986, John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China was released in cinemas to mostly baffled audiences. The goofy-fun-silly-awesome cocktail of Chinese black magic, wuxia, neon, and the World Class American Bullshit Artist that is Kurt Russell’s rig-drivin’ lead character, Jack Burton was quickly relegated to cult status. As The Monster Squad was the cult sweetheart to the more popular The Goonies, so was Big Trouble in Little China the cult answer to mega-hit Ghostbusters.
This movie remains a litmus test to a certain type of film sensibility. If you don’t like this movie, it’s going to be hard for us to have any serious conversations about film, be it Kubrick, Fellini, Hitchcock or Bay’ be it gothic romance, Fordian westerns, The French New Wave or the Dogme95 movement. Because if you don’t like Big Trouble In Little China, you don’t like filmmaking.
Just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol’ storm right square in the eye and he says, “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.”
Cinema legend Michael Cimino has passed on at 77 (albeit nobody seems to trust that was actually his age.) While he started his career in New York making Television commercials, he quickly moved into screenwriting (he wrote the Bruce Dern hippie-sci-fi near-classic Silent Running, as well as the second Dirty Harry picture, Magnum Force) before starting to direct features in the mid 1970s.
Michael Cimino was perhaps best known for making one of the great Vietnam War pictures, The Deer Hunter, the film which made Christopher Walken a star, and included fine performances from Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and John Cazale. He was also infamous for his studio crushing Heaven’s Gate, a film so expensive it put United Artists into receivership with its financial excesses, but nevertheless, nearly 40 years later, is now hailed by many as a true American masterpiece. It killed his career, although he made a few more modest films in the 1980s and 1990s, nothing of the massive, deliberate scale of his two great films. It is notable that the man has more unrealized films in that period that most directors, in part due to his budget bloating fastidiousness directing method.
Cinimo always felt like the odd man out of the cinema-brats of the 1970s (Polanski, Friedkin, Scorsese, De Palma, Spielberg & Lucas), maybe because his films were considered slow and pondering, even by the standards of the era. The man nevertheless had a great eye for imagery and knew how to craft a setpiece.
Robin Hardy, director of one of the all time great horror films, The Wickerman has passed on at the age of 86. Born in Surrey, England, Hardy started his career with the National Film Board of Canada, before going on to direct many TV commercials in the UK, before he came on board to direct the 1973 film which starred Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee. Lee, before his recent passing, described The Wickerman as the best film he was ever in – from a man with nearly 300 film and TV credits including Lord of the Rings, 007, and Star Wars entries.
The influence of The Wickerman cannot be understated, from the recent Radiohead homage to Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (which has a cameo from Woodward) to various musicians quoting dialogue and musical elements in their work. It played a significant role in bringing paganism back to Britain in a big way, and this from one of the most tortured releases in the UK and the United States.
In the UK it played as the B-side to one of the greatest horror double features ever (Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now was the “A” film on the bill), and in the US, it was a severely truncated drive-in movie, that still somehow managed to spawn a cult of viewers while it crawled its way to horror-classic. The oft quoted phrase, “The Citizen Kane of Horror films,” comes from one Bay Area magazine, Cinefantastique, which was the first to recognize and trumpet its greatness. Even to this day, there are several of edits of the film that still remain confusing as to what is the definitive one. The writing, acting and direction are all working in sync despite being such a troubled production and release.
After 1973, Robin Hardy worked publishing novels, consulting on American historical theme parks, and directing only two films in the 1980s before circling back to have another look at his legacy. A few years ago, myself and a colleague, Micheal Guillen, had the rare privilege of sitting down for a lengthy breakfast-long interview with the erudite and prickly director, just as he was releasing his satirical sequel, The Wicker Tree at the Fantasia Film festival. You can find that interview here.
Canadian cinema is an odd beast, it’s broken into Quebec cinema, which is a thriving island unto itself, with its own star system and release schedule, and the English industry, which has always been dwarfed by our American neighbours to the south — a constant talent drain to Hollywood, and Hollywood shooting big pictures in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. Recently however, big Quebec directors such as Jean-Marc Vallee have been Denis Villeneuve wooed by Tinseltown as well.
Then in the 1970s and 1980s there was the Tax Loophole situation which resulted in both start of the career of one David Cronenberg, as well as a great lake of cheap and sleazy horror pictures (and sex comedies). This makes, on average, the Canadian cinema ouvre very much obsessed with sex and despair – as far from the Canuck stereotypes politeness, pragmatism and maple syrup.
To celebrate this diversity in Canada, below is a collection Canadian posters (both good and bad – and I mean the poster as much as the film) that reflect a pretty gonzo diversity in the Great White North, which celebrates its 149th Birthday today!
Tickled is a documentary about power when one is the ‘tickler.’ Tickled is a documentary about the sudden whiplash from silly to terror when one is the ‘ticklee.’ Tickled is David Farrier’s investigative reporting magnum opus, a deeply engaging ride-along that is darn near impossible to properly review without spoilers. In fact that last sentence, and the two preceding it are probably spoilers to those sensitive about such things.
We will proceed with caution, but if you wish to go into Tickled as clean as possible (at this point), read on at your own risk, I will attempt to tread lightly.
This year, Hot Docs was rocked by an unconventional star; a documentary laced with conspiracy, intrigue, and tickling. The New Zealand doc, directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve, initially attempted to bring the unconventional sport of Competitive Endurance Tickling to the public’s attention. In so doing, Farrier and Reeve found themselves in a mess they weren’t prepared for. What started out as a fun exposé very quickly became a dangerous game of cat and mouse, with the directors chasing leads that lead to horrifying stories of manipulation, greed, extortion, identity theft, and harassment.
There isn’t much that can be said about the documentary. It unravels like a thriller, with each layer peeling back to reveal something new and shocking. But its impact lies in the element of surprise; the less you know going in, the better your experience with the material will be. I had the good fortune of being able to talk to Farrier about the doc, an interesting process in itself given how little can be said without spoiling ones viewing experience. The below information may seem cryptic to those who have yet to see the film. To those who have, they will be enlightening. But proceed with caution, and maybe read what follows after seeing the flick. Tickled is playing at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema until July 6th. Don’t miss out on this incredible documentary. Would you like to know more…?
When Thursday rolls around, and you’re looking for something to do, and you’ve got an hour to spare….who you gonna call? That’s right! AFTER THE HYPE! YAY, MUCH CLEVER! We’re here this week with special guests Mackenzie Peykov and Renee Gauthier to talk the 1984 classic GHOSTBUSTERS. Saddle up them proton packs and get ready to be slimed. It’s gonna feel funky…in a good way.
Not a particularly clever title, but it’s great to see Ben Foster getting back on the proverbial horse. Ten years ago and I would’ve said this guy is going to be an A-lister among A-listers. But he’s been virtually nowhere to be seen.
A story about the collision of the Old and New West, two brothers — Toby (Chris Pine), a straight-living, divorced father trying to make a better life for his son; and Tanner (Ben Foster), a short-tempered ex-con with a loose trigger finger — come together to rob branch after branch of the bank that is foreclosing on their family land. The hold-ups are part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that powerful forces beyond their control have stolen from under their feet. Vengeance seems to be theirs until they find themselves in the crosshairs of a relentless, foul-mouthed Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) looking for one last triumph on the eve of his retirement. As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their plan, a showdown looms at the crossroads where the last honest law man and a pair of brothers with nothing to live for except family collide.
Hell or a High Water is a modern action drama set in West Texas where the distinction between honest men and outlaws has blurred beyond recognition. Besides Ben Foster, Hell or a High Water features a cast that includes Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Gil Birmingham.
CBS Films will release Hell or a High Water in select theaters on August 12th and nationwide on August 19th. See you there?
As if you need further proof that the rebooted Star Trek universe is flash-in-the-pan pop cultural action-blockbuster-mush instead of boldly attempting any kind of science fiction or social ideas — something more or less ended with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country — here is Rihanna fiddling while Rome burns.
While the nerd collective throws an over-the-top hissy fit about the all-Female Ghostbusters, I continue to quietly lament the Star-Wars-Too-Fast-Too-Furious-ification of this third go-around on Trek in the multiplex.
(Also, on a serious, perhaps inappropriate note, at least a more morbid one, this is twice now that Justin Lin inherits a big budget franchise, one of the leads dies tragically via car. Two data points doesn’t make a trend, but I wonder if Star Trek Beyond will have a Yelchin-bump in terms of audience interest in the same way the Furious Franchise did with Paul Walker.)