Steven Soderbergh Looks Back at King of the Hill

WRITER’S NOTE: The following article is about a screening which took place back in 2011.

In the midst of promoting “Contagion” in Los Angeles, California, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh dropped by the Silent Movie Theater where Cinefamily was screening one of his earlier and most underrated features, “King of the Hill.” Not to be confused with the Fox animated series, the film follows 12-year-old Aaron Kurlander (Jesse Bradford) who is forced to fend for himself in Depression era America after his parents leave him alone at the Empire Hotel in St. Louis. Aaron is forced to grow up a lot faster than any kid should ever have to, and he desperately searches for ways to avoid eviction from the family’s apartment. Soderbergh thanked the sold-out crowd for coming to the theater, and he started off by saying, “Why aren’t you guys going to see ‘Contagion’? This film is never going into profit!”

“King of the Hill” was Soderbergh’s third film after “Sex, Lies & Videotape” and “Kafka,” and it was released back in 1993. Based on the memoir of the same name by A.E. Hotchner, it was given to him as a gift by a friend. At the time he was looking for something different than “Sex, Lies & Videotape,” and he found Hotchner’s story to be just what he needed. He did, however, describe it as a “tricky adaptation” since he only had a budget of $8 million and 48 days to shoot the film, and it was a period piece. On the upside, though, he said Universal Pictures, which released the movie through its Gramercy Pictures division, was “hands off” during the production.

Watching it again, Soderbergh described it as the one movie of his he might change aesthetically. He felt the prettiness of the picture would help counteract the harsher parts of the story, but now finds the film to be “almost too pretty.” Most of the conversation he had in pre-production involved the overall palette color which he and cinematographer Elliot Davis wanted to remain within a certain range. Were he to film it today, Soderbergh said he would go out of his way to make it “less commercial.”

Soderbergh recalled doing three preview screenings of his movie, none of which went well. When finished with the project, he admitted feeling somewhat dissatisfied as the movie’s ending did not seem entirely satisfactory to him. Whatever problems he had, they did not stop him from trying to adapt Hotchner’s follow up memoir “Looking for Miracles” which focused on the writer’s relationship with his brother. Sadly, Soderbergh’s hopes were quickly dashed when “King of the Hill” did not find an audience upon its release.

Regardless of his feelings, the audience was in agreement that “King of the Hill” is a great film, and it truly is one of Soderbergh’s best works. The director also found a big fan in Sid Sheinberg, the famous entertainment executive, who, soon after seeing it, introduced him to Lew Wasserman. It also made Soderbergh how that he didn’t enjoy writing as much as he thought, but he did continue writing screenplays for his films “The Underneath,” “Schizopolis,” and his remake of “Solaris.” This was one of five films he did after “Sex, Lies & Videotape” which he openly admitted “did no business,” but perhaps they will eventually.

“King of the Hill” is not currently available on DVD (not in America anyway) or Blu-ray, nor is it available to stream on Netflix. Soderbergh remarked this is because “cult flicks are not marketable right now” and that “no one buys DVD’s anymore.” But with this director being so highly regarded in Hollywood, hopefully this third film of his will get the digital release it deserves so fans can discover it for the great movie it is.

UPDATE: “King of the Hill” has since been released by the Criterion Collection in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. It features a new restored 2K digital film transfer, interviews with Soderbergh and Hotchner, movie trailers, and Soderbergh’s fourth film “The Underneath.” To find out more about this release, click here.

Phil Joanou on How He Came to Direct U2: Rattle and Hum

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place back in 2012.

Filmmaker Phil Joanou was at New Beverly Cinema when the theatre showed two of his films: “Three O’Clock High” and the U2 documentary “Rattle and Hum.” While most of the evening was spent talking about “Three O’Clock High” as it had arrived at its 25th anniversary, Joanou did take some time to talk about how he was hired by U2 to direct their first music documentary (or rockumentary if you will). The story ended up becoming one of the strangest and funniest ones told on this evening.

Joanou was busy doing post-production on “Three O’Clock High” when his agent got him a meeting with U2 on the day before the band had to leave America for Ireland. They had already interviewed a number of directors already, but Joanou said they hit it off to where they asked him, “can you come to Dublin tomorrow?” He said sure, but he had to call the producer of “Three O’Clock High” to explain why he had to leave post-production on a little early. The producer apparently was not too happy about this sudden opportunity, but Joanou got to go anyway.

Once in Dublin, Joanou said U2 interviewed him for five days about directing “Rattle and Hum.” Where the story goes from there is not what you might expect as the band kind of left him hanging.

Phil Joanou: They would take me to a friend’s house and then Bono and Edge would leave and I would have dinner with the husband and wife. After that they took me to a wedding and they left me there as well. I’m there in Northern Ireland and I’m all by myself at an Irish wedding and I’m like, okay great! I don’t know anyone here. I had to figure out how to get home. So, they would do weird things like that to me. They’d drop me off at a bar and leave me. This went on for five days!

After all this craziness, U2 came up to Joanou and said, “alright, you can do the film.” Joanou said that to this day he still does not know what the criteria was for them hiring him, but he described making “Rattle and Hum” as being an “incredible experience.” Looking back, he described the Irish rock band as having taught him so much while being on the road and in the studio with them.

“Rattle and Hum” was greeted with a critical backlash when it came out as critics accused the band of being too grandiose and self-righteous. Watching it today, however, is a different experience as “The Joshua Tree” tour, as it is presented here, feels far more intimate than any tour they have done since. The musical numbers are exhilarating to watch, especially in black and white, and their journey through the American music scene gives us a number of unforgettable moments. But moreover, it was especially great to see it on the big screen for the first time in many years. Concert movies like these really need to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.

Michael Keaton on How He Came to Play Batman

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2011 when this screening took place.

One of the double features shown during American Cinematheque’s tribute to Michael Keaton was “Batman” and “Batman Returns.” When the actor was originally cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman, fans objected to it as he was primarily known for his comedic performances in “Mr. Mom,” “Night Shift,” and “Beetlejuice” among others, and they could not see him playing such a traumatized character. Of course, many forgot about his powerhouse performance in “Clean & Sober” which won him a Best Actor award from the National Board of Review. In retrospect, his portrayal of Batman is still the best in the movie franchise, and Christian Bale’s portrayal is a very close second.

While talking with Geoff Boucher at the Aero Theatre, Keaton said it was “Beetlejuice” director Tim Burton who wanted him to play Bruce Wayne and his alter ego of Batman. At that point, Keaton said he did not fully understand the comic book super world. It was through his introduction to Frank Miller’s books that he got some ideas as to how Burton’s vision would reflect Gotham City in a darker way than ever before. Keaton said Bruce Wayne turned out to be the key to getting into the character.

Michael Keaton: The coolest thing from the get-go is that he doesn’t have superpowers, there are no magical things. He is a hero of intuition and inventiveness and discipline. I always knew the way in was Bruce Wayne. It wasn’t Batman. It was never Batman. That was the key. The only reason to do it, really, was to come at all of this from this guy’s point of view.

When Keaton and Burton made “Batman” back in 1988-89, Keaton said there was nothing else like it before, and that there was no example for either of them to follow. Unlike the television series from the 1960’s, this was not going to be full of campy humor. The fact that “Batman” became such a landmark film in Hollywood history is something Keaton owes to Burton.

Michael Keaton: What Tim accomplished changed everything. It was hard. It was harder on Tim than anyone and he changed the way people look at those movies. That really is the case and the reason for that is the originality of Tim and the people Tim put together. Anton Furst was off the chart, Danny Elfman was perfect, bringing in Prince and Nicholson, all of it was just so right and so huge. The promotion of the movie was genius too. The look of the movie was a turning point too; you still see that around in different versions.

When it came time to start making “Batman Forever,” Warner Brothers wanted to take the franchise in a different direction. The executives wondered if everything really had to be so depressing, and Keaton said when he realized they were going to lighten things up, he dropped out along with Tim Burton. We all know what happened after they left, and no real explanation is needed here.

Keaton said he never really got around to seeing “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin,” but he said he did see most of “the one that starred Heath Ledger” (“The Dark Knight“). In describing Ledger’s performance as The Joker, he called it “crazy great,” and that the tone of the film is what he wanted the third one to be like. But by then the whole thing had become a big machine which was going to go on with or without him. Had he been in “Batman Forever,” Keaton is convinced he would have been horrible because he would not have been able to give the studio what they wanted. The sad thing is, he is probably right.

Michael Biehn and Jennifer Blanc-Biehn on The Victim

Michael Biehn and his wife Jennifer Blanc reappeared at New Beverly Cinema on September 11, 2012 to do another Q&A on his directorial debut of “The Victim.” It had been playing at the famed revival movie house since Friday, September 7, and Biehn and Blanc were determined to make as many appearances there as they could to promote their fun little grindhouse flick. This particular evening had Biehn talking about its making, another movie he was involved in which did not get much of a release, and there was also a big surprise in store for yours truly.

Biehn first made his presence known to the small audience on this evening when the end credits for “The Victim” began, and he ended up doing a running commentary as they played on how he got everyone’s picture on screen whether they were acting in the movie or working on it behind the scenes. He once again alluded to the fact he had such a low budget to work with, and he described how most films don’t have end credits like this one, nor are they as fun to watch.

Among the people in the audience was Brian McQuery who served as the movie’s assistant director, and Biehn pointed out how McQuery worked 4 or 5 days “for nothing.” Biehn said this was the result of a “friend helping out a friend,” and he got the audience to applaud McQuery for his selfless efforts.

During the Q&A, Biehn talked about when he worked with filmmaker William Friedkin on the movie “Rampage” and how the filmmaker kept calling everyone on his set “Moe.” Biehn ended up working on two movies with Friedkin and he remarked how no other actor has worked with him twice. It turns out no one saw “Rampage,” Biehn said, because Dino De Laurentis’ company, which produced it, ran out of money and was not able to give it a proper release. Biehn did say he liked “Rampage” a lot and thought Ennio Morricone’s film score to it was fantastic.

Biehn also pointed out how he got some of the best directing advice ever from Friedkin. When Biehn asked Friedkin where he decides to put the camera when filming a scene, Friedkin ended up telling him, “I just think of where I would like to see the scene from, and I put the camera there.”

Even after making “The Victim,” Biehn told the audience he does not consider himself a director as he “never had a feeling for the camera, lenses, angles or close ups.” This was the result of him always being so focused as an actor to where he never learned all that stuff. Although he said he is never going to be a great director, his directorial debut showed he is better and cleverer at this job than he gives himself credit for.

Blanc also went out of her way to say that Biehn is a “phenomenal director” and that she “always looks to him for audition help.”

Biehn went on to talk about how a movie needs to be in escrow before it even gets made, and this led to him discussing how he got the money to make “The Victim.” At the time he was recovering from a hernia operation and was on Vicodin when he took a meeting at a restaurant with some guys looking to finance a movie. They told Biehn how they wanted to work with him and that they had “a small amount of money” to make a film with. Biehn, in his drugged out state, told them he would do the project but only if he had total creative control over it. They ended up agreeing to this, and the next day Blanc told Biehn the check those two gave him had cleared. Biehn, now off the Vicodin, ended up saying out loud, “What the fuck?!”

Whatever the case, Biehn clearly put a lot of effort into making “The Victim” with the limited resources he had. He described how the film was shot most days from 6 a.m. in the morning to 6 p.m. at night, how he had to write the script and do pre-production in just three weeks, and all the driving scenes were shot on some guy’s driveway which had bushes on both sides. Biehn also said the character he plays is like him but “with a few problems.”

There were also days on set where he got so upset to where Biehn became like “William Friedkin, Michael Bay, James Cameron and Val Kilmer all together on their worst day.” Blanc said his temper tantrums among other behind the scenes fodder can be found on “The Victim’s” Blu-ray which will be released on September 18, 2012.

Ok, now I don’t brag about myself too much but this is something I have to talk about: I was sitting in the front row of the New Beverly taking notes down in my journal of what was being said during this screening, and Biehn saw me writing furiously and asked me, “Are you a reporter?”

“No,” I said (for some reason, I did not consider myself an official reporter back then).

“Oh, okay,” Biehn said. “You’re not gonna write a bad review of this, are you?”

I assured him I had already written my review of “The Victim,” and that it was good. Blanc then asked who I was and I told her my name and the websites I submit reviews to. It turns out she actually read my review and thought it was awesome, and she ended up coming over to give me a hug.

Biehn then asked his wife, “was it a good review?”

“It was fantastic,” she said.

Biehn then looked right at me with open arms and said, “come here!”

Who would have thought I would get a hug from the man who played Corporal Dwayne Hicks in “Aliens,” Kyle Reese in “The Terminator” and Navy SEAL Hiram Coffey in “The Abyss?” When things like this happen while you live in Los Angeles, it reminds you of how magical this town can be.

Michael Biehn Premieres The Victim at New Beverly Cinema

Michael Biehn dropped by New Beverly Cinema on September 7, 2012 where the theater was hosting the Los Angeles premiere of his feature film directorial debut, “The Victim.” Joining Biehn for a Q&A were his wife and co-star Jennifer Blanc, Denny Kirkwood who plays one of the police detectives, producer Lorna Paul and musician Randy Chance who provided some original songs for the movie.

The first question Biehn was asked was, of course, what finally persuaded him to step behind the camera and direct. Biehn replied he was “not all that aware of really low budget movies until he worked on ‘Grindhouse‘” with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Those two directors ended up showing him a bunch of their favorite grindhouse/exploitation movies, and Biehn recollected of how he was on the set of “The Divide” one day and saw a crew member reading Rodriguez’s book “Rebel Without a Crew” in which he wrote about his first film, “El Mariachi.” Those elements are what finally got Biehn to direct as well as Blanc’s insistence in her telling him to direct. Then again, she also said, “you can’t bully him into anything.”

Biehn also stars in “The Victim” as Kyle, a loner living in a remote cabin in the woods. He said he kept thinking of “The Shining” and of how Stanley Kubrick made the hotel look so isolated out in the snowy wilderness. It was this feeling of isolation Biehn wanted to capture, and “The Victim” ended up being shot in Topanga Canyon, California which seemed to have the perfect look. He went on to say how Blanc’s mother was especially helpful as she lives up there and talked to all her neighbors about what was going to happen. Apparently, the residents of Topanga Canyon do not like it when filmmakers come to town and shoot their movies there, but Blanc’s mom ended up making things a lot easier as a result.

“The Victim” ended up being shot in 12 days, and both Biehn and Blanc said they were “not allowed to say how small the budget was.” They did, however, say it was “much lower than what it says on the IMDB website” ($800,000).” Biehn also joked about how the budget was “so low that there’s a lot about the movie I wish was different. ‘The Terminator’ had a budget of $6.5 million, and the budget on this one was about a tenth of that.”

As a result, the crew ended up doing 35 setups a day compared to the average Hollywood blockbuster which manages just 2 or 3. All the car scenes in the movie were shot in a single day on someone’s driveway out in the woods, and Biehn joked about how the crew had to keep “driving in circles all fucking day long.” They didn’t even have money to hire a stunt coordinator, and the scenes in the house between Biehn and Kirkwood had them fighting and trying not to hurt one another in the process.

Day one of production, Biehn said, was “all about sex” as he shot the sex scene between him and Blanc. He said this was because the script wasn’t finished yet and that they “had to shoot something.” This led Blanc to tell the audience Biehn’s niece worked on the film in the makeup department, and this was her first experience in the movie business. His niece ended up watching Biehn drop his robe and go onto the set stark naked, and she was apparently so freaked out by what she saw that she didn’t speak about it for days afterwards.

This led to another funny story of when one of Biehn’s sons came to the set and ended up being traumatized by the sex scene between his dad and Blanc. Biehn even said his son has not seen “The Terminator” sex scene he had with Linda Hamilton, and that scene was, as he put it, “essential to the plot.”

All this sex talk led Biehn to point out how one of the characters in “The Victim” ends up “losing their life over a blow job.” Women’s sexuality, he said, ends up giving them a lot of power over men, and this proved to be the case in real life for John Edwards and Elliott Spitzer among others. Biehn described being amused at how some men end up messing up all the good they have done in life by “blowing it all for some pussy.” Sadly, there is a lot of truth to this.

Another scene discussed was when Biehn’s character gets put in a choke hold. He ended up telling actor Ryan Honey to put him in a real choke hold and assured the actor he would tap him on the arm if it became too much. Biehn recollected he was “surprised at how fast it worked” and that he was “gonna be lucky” if he could tap out. After this, Biehn said he was in “la la land” for a while and remembered one of the producers saying they would not be trying this again.

One audience member asked how Danielle Harris (best known for her work in the “Halloween” movies) got cast as Mary. Blanc responded she and Harris are good friends and that Harris liked the script. Biehn said he always saw Harris playing “teenagers who are always running away from monsters, but here she gets to play a woman.” He also remarked at how Harris started out as an actress at a very young age and that she at times directs herself which made him see he did not have to tell her anything.

Before “The Victim” began its screening at New Beverly Cinema, Biehn made an announcement to the audience:

“If you don’t like fucking or fighting, get up and leave now,” Biehn said. “Don’t take any of what you see seriously. Think of this movie as being food like cotton candy; it doesn’t fill you up, but you will remember having fun eating it.”

The above description says it all, and we thank Michael Biehn and his colleagues for giving us a highly entertaining time at New Beverly Cinema.

Richard Tyson on Playing Buddy Revell in Three O’Clock High

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place back in 2012.

“Every day of my life for the last twenty years, people come up to me, look me in the eyes and say ‘Buddy Revell!'”

That’s what actor Richard Tyson told the audience at New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles where the theater was showing “Three O’Clock High” in honor of its 25th anniversary. The 1987 high school comedy marked Tyson’s film debut, and his character of Buddy Revell was the school bully who threatens the meek Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko) to a fight after Jerry touches him on his leather jacket. From that point on, it is clear you never ever touch Buddy Revell at any time.

Around the time the movie was headed into pre-production, Tyson had just graduated with a Master of Theater Arts degree from Cornell University and was living out of his truck when he heard about it. Apparently, he went through about 14 callbacks before he got cast as Buddy, but the film’s director Phil Joanou was always convinced Tyson was the only one for the role.

Phil Joanou: While Jerry is so manic and nervous and flopping like a fish on the deck, Buddy is like an iceberg floating across. Just cool, he sits in the class, he just looks over at Jerry then he looks back. Buddy’s almost expressionless, and so many other actors would have been expressionless, but what was so cool about what Richard did is that he’s doing nothing but he’s doing something. That’s really hard to do, but you can see that there’s something going on behind this guy’s eyes.

In talking about how he established Buddy Revell’s physicality, Tyson brought up the scene where Buddy gets in a fight with the jock in the library. Joanou asked Tyson what he would do if someone came up and poked him in you the chest the way Buddy gets poked, and Tyson responded he would “break his fucking finger” and then showed him how he would do so. Once he was convinced, Joanou asked Tyson if he could throw a right cross punch after breaking the finger and Tyson had no problem doing so.

It’s important to note that the screenwriters of “Three O’Clock High,” Richard Christian Matheson and Thomas Szollosi, were on set the day the library scene was being shot. Matheson and Szollosi had their doubts about Tyson at first, but after watching him in action, they were convinced the filmmakers got the right guy to play Buddy.

In comparison to all the bullies we see and hear about on school campuses these days, Tyson said he didn’t think Buddy was really a bully.

Richard Tyson: I think the system, the school and the environment were worse than him. It’s not just the guy in the leather jacket. The leather jacket guys are usually left alone. Just don’t touch them in the bathroom!

What was great about Tyson’s performance in “Three O’Clock High,” and Joanou pointed this out, was in showing how Buddy was always in control and of what happened when he loses control. When Jerry manages to punch Buddy in the nose, you suddenly see the rage in his face as he registers this is the first time he has ever been hit and drawn blood. Seeing that look of rage which crosses his face shows what makes Tyson’s performance so damn good: he shows you the character’s emotions without ever having to spell it out for you.

Richard Tyson went from “Three O’Clock High” to starring in such movies as “Two Moon Junction,” “Kindergarten Cop” where he played Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nemesis, and “There’s Something About Mary” in which he banged Ben Stiller’s head on a table several times. Tyson’s still got a lot of great work ahead of him, but we will never ever forget his performance as Buddy Revell.

Billy Crystal Talks About Working with Jack Palance on City Slickers

While at the twentieth anniversary screening of “City Slickers” which was held at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica on August 12, 2011, Billy Crystal talked about working with the late Jack Palance in that film. Palance co-starred as Curly Washburn, the most authentic of cowboys, and it was a role which earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. In addition, it provided Crystal with one of the best setups in his Oscar hosting history; Palance’s one-armed push-ups which proved he was not too old to ever act in a motion picture.

One movie the “City Slickers” filmmakers viewed before they started shooting was “Shane,” the 1953 western starring Alan Ladd as the title character and Palance as Jack Wilson, and Crystal said this was the first movie he ever saw on the silver screen. When it came to casting Curly, he said they considered no one but Palance for the role. “Shane” marked the last time Palance got an Oscar nomination until he did “City Slickers,” and that’s a difference of 38 years!

Palance worked on “City Slickers” for a total of 10 days. Before he arrived on set, the crew kept saying, “the big cat is coming.” The director of the movie, Ron Underwood, was described by Crystal as the “sweetest guy” and a “puppeteer.” But when it came to the first day of shooting, Palance told Crystal he always got “nervous.” When Underwood asked him to do that “glare” of his one more time, Palance replied, “What glare?!”

After this, Palance put up a fit which had Underwood’s hair standing on end. No one was expecting this kind of tantrum from the former host of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” But after the first day, things got better even though Palance was never thrilled about being on a horse. Both he and Crystal continually ran lines with one another, and Crystal described the two weeks they worked together as feeling like nine months.

Crystal described Palance as a “real movie actor” in how he understood the size of his head. Palance owned the camera and his appearance in a way few actors can ever hope to. His role as Curly capped off a long and memorable acting career. While he sadly passed away in 2006, his legacy continues to live on from one generation to the next.

Edgar Wright Talks with Walter Hill about The Driver

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2011 when this screening took place.

Continuing with his film programming at New Beverly Cinema which he entitled The Wright Stuff II, filmmaker Edgar Wright gave us a vehicular double feature with “The Driver” and “Duel.” The main attraction of the evening, however, was “The Driver,” a 1978 movie directed by Walter Hill, and Wright gleefully told the audience it was more for him than us as it was his first time seeing it on the big screen, and that it made him want to become a getaway driver. Joining him for this screening was the film’s director Walter Hill, actors Bruce Dern and Ronee Blakley, and producer Frank Marshall.

Upon seeing the sold-out audience at the New Beverly, Hill remarked, “This is the largest crowd in the United States that has ever seen this movie. It didn’t do all that well when it was first released.”

Indeed, “The Driver” is not as well-known as some of Hill’s other movies like “48 Hours” or “Southern Comfort.” When it came out, it was criticized as not being fun and for being “too real.” Hill remarked how depressing it can be when a movie you make does no business and gets bad reviews. Later though, another filmmaker contacted Hill about the reception “The Driver” got and told him, “Pay no attention to reviews. The movie’s marvelous, life is hard.”

“The Driver” marked the first time Hill worked with Dern, and Dern praised Hill endlessly throughout the evening and said he would go anywhere in the world for him. Dern said he found Hill to be “full of surprises,” and he came to work thinking they would do something which had never done before. Hill in turn described Dern as “a very special actor” who always jumped out at him with quality and personality in each of his performances, and that he gave each role an unusual quality of psychological density to even the most mundane characters.

Marshall, best known for producing the Jason Bourne movies and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” originally turned the movie down because it was being shot at night in downtown Los Angeles. Back in the 1970’s, he was worried about shooting there as it had a very brutal atmosphere. Somehow though, he got sucked into doing this one and ended up trading a summer in Malibu as a result. “The Driver” later led Hill to make another film called “The Warriors” which was also shot at night.

While Dern has most of the movie’s dialogue, the main star of “The Driver” is Ryan O’Neal. His character is noted for having only 350 words in the entire script, and Wright remarked how nice it was to have an action movie where the hero has no good lines. O’Neal was known as a heartthrob at the time, but he was eager to do something different in his career when this role came along. However, many didn’t accept O’Neal as this character when the movie came out as people had a different image of him at the time. Years later though, it is clear just how good he is here, and it served him well in his growth as an actor.

When it comes to the car chases in “The Driver,” it is clear the actors really were driving those cars instead of their stunt doubles. This film was released not long after “The French Connection” which did everything for real, and everyone was really tearing around at crazy speeds. Hill said he and his fellow filmmakers were “young and reckless” back then, and he gleefully pointed out there indeed was “a real man in that car that flipped.”

But what’s great about the car chases in “The Driver,” as Marshall pointed out, is how Hill uses them to tell a story. These are not car chases for the sake of car chases, but ones which are an integral part to the movie as a whole. Watching it at New Beverly Cinema, it made me yearn for the kind Hollywood doesn’t do any more unless CGI is heavily involved. In the end, there is not much which is even better than the real thing.

One audience member asked if there were any police experts on set during the making of “The Driver.” Hill said there were not, and he made clear how the movie is really “pure fantasy” in what it portrays and is the “opposite of law enforcement.” It’s hard to think of any police force wanting to be involved with a movie like this as it appears to show the bad guys getting away without any real repercussions. In the end, Hill saw it as an extension of the “dark sides of personalities.” Indeed, this is not a film inhabited by easily redeemable characters, and Hill was correct in describing as a “very unreal movie.”

Hill also took the time to talk about his style of directing, and this something I was eager to know more about. His films typically don’t get much rehearsal time, but he found this actually works in the director’s favor. He told the audience that two-thirds of directing is casting, and he never gets any rehearsal until take one. Dern added how Hill is not very good at rehearsal, and this made him and Walter seem like a perfect match for one another.

Hill even talked about how he originally wanted Robert Mitchum for Dern’s role, and that he talked with him for six hours straight about it. In the end, however, Mitchum told Hill there was “too much car stuff” and that he didn’t have the energy for it. This clearly benefited Dern who got the role instead, and he admitted Mitchum would have been a “handful” for Hill to deal with.

In the end, this screening “The Driver” really turned out to be a gift for everyone at New Beverly Cinema. It was a gift for Hill and the other guests as it brought back so many memories they would have otherwise forgotten. It was also a gift for Wright as he would never have seen it on the big screen otherwise. But it was an especially big gift for the audience because many of would not have seen it otherwise. I probably would not have rushed out to see “The Driver” if Wright did not feature it in his festival of movies, and for me it turned out to be a special treat.

“The Driver” is one of the many movies which show how Walter Hill is still a vastly underappreciated filmmaker at times. After watching it at New Beverly Cinema, I am reminded of how effective a director he can be when given the right material.

ADDITIONAL WRITER’S NOTE: This movie has become a cult classic in recent years and has proven to be very influential on many filmmakers. Nicolas Winding Refn has cited it as an inspiration on his brilliant movie “Drive,” and you can see its influence all over Edgar Wright’s 2017 action film “Baby Driver.”

Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon on their Favorite Hollywood Screenwriting Movie, Barton Fink

WRITER’S NOTE: The following article is about a screening which took place in July of 2011.

Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon dropped by New Beverly Cinema to host a double feature of the movies they consider to be the best about screenwriting in Hollywood: “Barton Fink” and “Sunset Boulevard.” Garant and Lennon are known for writing the scripts for the “A Night at the Museum” movies, creating the MTV sketch comedy series “The State,” and starring in Comedy Central’s “Reno 911.” They were invited to screen some of their films, but both flatly refused as they consider only two of them “watchable.”

Much of the evening was spent talking about “Barton Fink,” as they both see it as their life story. Written by Joel and Ethan Coen and directed by Joel, it stars John Turturro as the Barton of the movie’s title, a respected playwright from New York who moves to Los Angeles to write for the movies. While there, he stays in the dilapidated Hotel Earle where he befriends insurance salesman Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), who tells Barton he sells “a piece of mind.” Barton also deals with the overzealous movie boss Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner, in an Oscar-nominated performance), who tells him he cares deeply about his writing ability but who, in the end, is far more interested in what the audience wants to see.

Garant and Lennon recollected about watching “Barton Fink” back in 1991, the year before they started working on “The State” for MTV. They found it funny and abstract as Jack Lipnick chews out Barton for being “too fruity,” and they both looked at each other and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if movie studios were really like that?”

But soon after that, they both found those meetings Barton had were exactly like ones they ended up having in Hollywood. They consider this and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” to be a far more accurate depiction of Hollywood than Robert Altman’s “The Player,” and, as John Travolta said in “Pulp Fiction,” “That’s a bold statement!” Tony Shaloub’s character of movie producer Ben Geisler ends up getting fired without ever reading Barton’s script, and to this the two of them replied, “That’s Hollywood!”

They also joked about how “Barton Fink” acted as the origin story for John Turturro’s character of Jesus in “The Big Lebowski.” John Goodman, who is also in “Lebowski,” ends up giving Turturro a box, and the Coens never say or show us what is in it (very smart on their part). For all we know, it’s Jesus’ bowling ball in there. Either that, or it is the same box featured at the end of David Fincher’s “Seven.”

Garant and Lennon recently released a book they wrote called “Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at The Box Office and You Can Too!” If you take a good close look at the title, you will see the word “fun” has been crossed out. They were a hilarious delight as they talked about their ups and downs screenwriting in Hollywood. It was as fun to hang out with them for this double feature as it was guessing what their favorite quotes from “Barton Fink” were. They did, however, make it very clear that this was not one of them:

“The writer is king at Capitol Pictures!”

A few years later, I got to interview with Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon about “Hell Baby,” a horror comedy they wrote, directed and starred in. I brought up how I attended their double feature of screenwriting movies and of how “Hell Baby” was made independently without any interference from studio executives. I assumed they enjoyed the immense freedom they had in making this film, and it was the kind of freedom which was denied to them when they wrote the “A Night at the Museum” movies.

Please check out the interview below which I did for We Got This Covered. In addition, to Garant and Lennon, I also got to talk with Keegan Michael Key, Rob Huebel and Rob Corddry.

Amy Heckerling Looks Back at Fast Times at Ridgemont High

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place back in July of 2011.

It is very scary to realize “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is now at its 30-year anniversary. Although dated stylistically, what the students went through in this movie still feels very relevant to what today’s generation goes through on a regular basis. Based on the book by Cameron Crowe, who also wrote the screenplay, it follows a group of students during one year at a San Diego high school. Its director, Amy Heckerling, dropped by the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica to talk about the behind the scenes stories, and she was greeted by a sold-out audience.

“Fast Times at Ridgemont” is notable for its frank depiction of teenage sexuality and in dealing with highly sensitive topics like abortion. Heckerling said the movie was shot at a time when things were rapidly changing. The sexual revolution was ending and the era of Ronald Reagan was on the rise along with conservatism. Most teenage comedies deal with situations from the male point of view, but Heckerling was adamant about the audience seeing things from the woman’s perspective. The MPAA, however, forced her to cut scenes like when a girl talks to her mother about blow jobs in order to avoid an X-rating. After all these years, the hypocrisy of the MPAA never ceases to amaze me.

These days, the movie is known for having three future Oscar winners in its cast: Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker and Nicolas Cage, who is credited here as Nicolas Coppola. This is not to mention all the other cast members like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates, both of whom went on to other successful efforts after this movie’s release.

Heckerling recalled coming into this movie at what she called an “awesome” time. Casting young kids in a movie proved to be tricky, but she loved how there was so much great talent to choose from. When asked if she thought all great actors could do comedy, Heckerling replied some have it in their makeup while others do not. In working with Penn, she said he is wonderful in everything he does, and his smile always lights up whatever room he is in.

In talking about the soundtrack, Heckerling wanted to fill it with 1980’s music and songs by Oingo Boingo and the Go-Go’s. While she got to include the songs she wanted in the movie, she was also forced to add in a lot of 1970’s rock music from bands like The Eagles. This was in large part due to one of the movie’s producers, Irving Azroff, being the personal manager of The Eagles at the time.

One audience member asked Heckerling if the studio proposed any sequels or prequels to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” She said when the movie was screened in Westwood, one studio executive suggested, “How about ‘Spicoli Goes to College?'”

There was a television spinoff but, like many of its kind, it proved to be short lived. There was also something of a follow up to “Fast Times” called “The Wild Life,” which was also written by Cameron Crowe and directed by Art Linson, but Heckerling said it was not strictly a sequel.

As unbelievable as it is that we are now at the 30th anniversary of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” it only goes to show this particular movie’s staying power. It remains as raunchy and funny as when it first came out, and it is also one of the great time capsules of the 1980’s. This is the kind of movie which really does not need a sequel or a prequel at this point to justify its success or longevity.