Posts Tagged ‘Oliver Stone’

After finding myself considerably more than pleased with writer/director Scott Frank’s 2014 adaptation of modern noir master Lawrence Block’s gritty PI drama A Walk Among The Tombstones, I decided, in spite (or maybe because?) of its 0% Rotten Tomatoes score, to track down the only other cinematic take on Block’s work (and, more specifically, on his legendary protagonist, former-cop-turned-unlicensed-gumshoe Matt Scudder), 1986’s 8 Million Ways To Die. As things turned out, I had to go the Blu-ray route with this one since it’s not available for streaming anywhere so far as I can tell, but hey, things could have been worse — the Kino Lorber Blu (and,I presume, DVD, although I didn’t actually check to see if it’s available in that format) is actually a semi-recent release, dating back to October of 2017, and if I’d been determined to track this flick down before that, I may have been forced to rely on, say, the kind of seedy underworld connections that Scudder himself has to depend on from time to time.

Speaking of Scudder, this earlier celluloid incarnation is brought to life by Jeff Bridges, who’s certainly rock solid in the title role, bobbing and weaving between every sort of psychological polarity possible as he takes on what first appears to be a fairly open-and-shut case of a prostitute named Sunny (played by Alexandra Paul) who wants to get out from under the clutches of her pimp, Chance (Randy Brooks), only to suddenly find himself in the midst of  a murder investigation when she turns up dead and he ends up saddled with a self-appointed “partner” in the form of another hooker, Sarah (Rosanna Arquette), whose reasons for putting herself in the middle of such an obviously dangerous situation are as complex and elusive as everything else about this feisty potential femme fatale. All signs point to Chance being the killer right out of the gate, of course, but Scudder is soon glad for the extra help he’s got when it turns out that the actual culprit might very well be coolly sociopathic drug boss Angel Maldonado, played with understated-but-no-doubt-thick menace by Andy Garcia.

Oh, and did I mention that Scudder is barely six months sober, and that the more stressful this case gets, the better the bottle starts looking to him?

Hal Ashby may seem an interesting choice to direct an ostensible hard-boiled thriller like this, given that he’s best known for cult-favorite comedies like Harold And Maude and Being There, but he captures the seedy L.A. underworld of the early-to-mid 1980s with a considerable amount of sleek style and “street-level”authenticity that, fair enough, isn’t gonna make anybody forget about To Live And Die In L.A., much less Vice Squad, anytime too soon, but will certainly do in a pinch — and he undoubtedly gets a series of terrific performances from each and every one of his principal players. This, then, is the point at which you are more or less obligated to wonder this film died at the box office so quickly, has such a lousy reputation (as well as that 0% RT score), and was even unavailable for home viewing, apart from its initial VHS release, until about nine months ago.

My theory? It’s all down to one serious mess of a screenplay.

Oliver Stone made the first pass at it and is, the film historians tell me, the guy responsible for transposing the action from its original printed-page setting of New York to the West Coast, but when his treatment failed to make the studio happy, R. Lance Hall was brought in for another go at things — only to find his version largely re-written by an uncredited Robert Towne. Ashby, however, fundamentally dissatisfied with even this third script, encouraged his actors to simply improvise when and where it suited both them and him, and as a result, we end up with a movie that has a very consistent look and feel that’s constantly undermined by its scattershot, near-pathologically inconsistent tone. A movie that knows what it wants to appear to be, but little to no idea of what it actually is.

In his introduction to the recent, and highly faithful, graphic novel adaptation of his book by writer/artist John K. Snyder III (which retains the original title of Eight Million Ways To Die — no numeric shorthand here! — and is well worth checking out), author Block makes his disdain for this film pretty clear (even while singling out Bridges and Garcia for deserved praise), and I can certainly see why he wouldn’t care too much for it but, unlike most critics, I can’t bring myself to see it as a total loss. The acting is too strong, and the directing too assured, for that. It’s not great, mind you, and maybe not even especially good, but it’s easy enough to see that there was something that probably could have been pretty special hidden underneath all those re-writes (official and otherwise) — and that seems to be the view taken by Bridges in the full-length commentary track included on the disc, as well as in the various on-camera interviews with Arquette, Paul, Garcia, and Block himself that, along with a stills gallery, round out Kino Lorber’s fairly comprehensive extras package.

All told, then, 8 Million Ways To Die is far from the unmitigated disaster that it is, largely, remembered as — to the extent that it’s remembered at all. It’s probably of interest only to the curious, granted, but if you number yourself among that crowd, what the hell — it’s worth at least a rental, although probably no more than that.

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Ah, good old Hollywood nepotism. It landed Sean Stone, Oliver’s boy, a gig as part of the “investigative team” on Jesse Ventura’s since-cancelled “reality”  TV show Conspiracy Theory, and when that didn’t pan out, it got him a job directing the atrociously lame 2012 “found footage” horror flick we’re here to take a look at today, Greystone Park (now playing on Netflix instant streaming, as per my self-imposed — and already broken once or twice, sorry — rules for this month).

Certainly the younger Stone’s ostensible “talent” alone didn’t win him this less-than-plum assignment, as none seems to be in evidence, but the premise — a film crew decides to spend a night in an abandoned mental institution (the titular Greystone Park) known for its radical — and radically inhumane — treatments like electroshock “therapy,” lobotomy, sensory deprivation, all that jazz, is at least mildly promising. These days the place is, of course, rumored to be haunted.

Surprise! Those rumors prove to be fact, and as  faux-shaky hand-held camerawork documents this entire series of purportedly “true” events, you won’t jump or squirm or shudder even once, because you’ve seen all this stuff before.

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Speaking of been there and done that, in tried and true “mocukmentary”  fashion our intrepid cast consists of Pete Antico as Pete, Zana Markelson as Zana, John Schramm as John, Monique Zordan as Monique, Monique van Vooren as another Monique, Coralie Charrriol Paul as Coralie, Antonella Lentini as Antonella, Stone and his co-writer, Alex Wraith, as Sean and Alex, respectively, and even daddy Oliver stops in for a turn as, you guessed it, Oliver. Gosh, it all seems so real, doesn’t it?

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Anyway, into the old asylum (this flick has also been released under the alternate title of The Asylum Tapes overseas, but it doesn’t really matter what you call it — shit is shit, after all) they all (well, okay, most, since not everyone hung around for the entire shoot, and who could blame them?) go , and the standard questions begin swirling,  most notably who will live?, who will die?  — you get the picture.

The best question of all, though, is who will care ? Certainly not you, if you have any sense.

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If it sounds like I’m being pretty hard on,  or even outright dismissive of,  Greystone Park, well — guilty as charged. This is a movie with absolutely nothing going for it, and while a fair number of flicks we’ve reviewed around these parts lately — Willow CreekThe DenAbsenceThe Conspiracy — ably demonstrate that “found footage” horror hasn’t completely shot its wad yet, this is one that makes you think that all the naysayers ought to bury this particular subgenre might be right after all.

Rancid, boring, predictable, and tedious, if this is the best Sean Stone can do, it’s well past time for him to consider selling power tools or digging ditches for a living. I’m sure a phone call from dad will be more than enough to get him hired at any hardware store or assigned to any manual labor crew. There’s nothing more for you behind a camera, pal —  go on out there and hustle up an honest living.