Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Interviews

Monte Hellman on “Road to Nowhere”

[originally published August 11, 2011]

Road to Nowhere is Monte Hellman’s first feature in 21 years. The director of The Shooting and Two-Lane Blacktop, a resolutely personal director who turned out drive-in pictures for Roger Corman and spent his career largely transforming work-for-hire productions into distinctive and mysterious films, spent years taking jobs as editor and second-unit director while one project after another failed to come together. Among his projects during that time was working with the Sundance institute, where he helped a young filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino workshop a film called Reservoir Dogs. Hellman signed on as executive producer and helped Tarantino get his film made. The role of educator and mentor eventually took him to CalArts, the private arts college where he has been teaching for the past six years.

Road to Nowhere is a welcome return by a master filmmaker. It’s a film about making a film and a film within a film, with an unknown actress (played by Shannyn Sossamon) hired to play a role in a film based on a murky true story about a politician who embezzled $100 million and disappeared with a young woman. She may or may not in fact be the very woman she is portraying on film. The mystery may be real or a fiction within the film. This film’s director, Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan), shares the same initials as Monte Hellman, and the echoes don’t end there.

This is a film aware of its existence as a film, constantly pushing against the nature of representation and storytelling. It’s a mystery where part of the mystery is what the mystery is really about. It’s the best film about the nature of filmmaking since The Stunt Man but with a very different approach to the blurring of life and art. Its name could serve as the alternate title to Hellman’s 1971 masterpiece Two-Lane Blacktop and its play with doubles and characters in reflection recalls The Shooting, his starkly abstract 1968 western. It is a film with imagery as rich as paintings and characters roiling with anxiety even as they appear frozen in space. And it is a film in love with the mystery of cinema, a film about characters playing characters, about stories that shift as they are put on film, shift again as they are placed beside other stories in the editing, and once again shift as the audience pieces together the elements of the narrative. American filmmakers seem unable to stop and watch a character be. Hellman finds the most revealing moments between the beats of action, where characters at rest let their facades down. Or do they simply put on a different character for us to see?

Road to Nowhere opens Friday, August 19, for a week at Grand Illusion in Seattle’s U-District. I had the opportunity to speak with Monte Hellman by phone and discuss the film, his return to filmmaking and his unique take on cinematic storytelling.

Road to Nowhere opens with a character taking a DVD that has “Road to Nowhere” written across it in black marker, dropping it into a laptop DVD-ROM tray and watching a film called “Road to Nowhere” with its own credits sequence of fictional names. Why do you foreground the act of watching a movie at the beginning of us watching your movie?

Because it is a movie within a movie, or if you like, it’s all the movie within the movie. Maybe everything we’re watching is what he puts into that laptop.

I see a director making a film based on a “real life event” and getting father and farther from the event itself because he was finding the story that he wanted to tell, which didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the event. He is searching for a story true to him, not true to the foggy facts of the mystery that inspired the script.

I think this is not untypical of making all movies. I think we start out with an idea and the movie, certainly this one, took over and it let us know what it wanted to be. It was a very interesting process. It was a process for me of letting go, of giving up on some of my concepts of being a control freak.

You’ve know Steve Gaydos, who wrote the screenplay, for years. He worked on Cockfighter almost 40 years ago and wrote the scripts to a number of your films. Did he write this original script specifically for you?

Read More “Monte Hellman on “Road to Nowhere””
Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, streaming

What to stream: ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ on Netflix, ‘The Expanse’ returns on Amazon, ‘Tenet’ comes to VOD

Here’s what’s new and ready to stream now on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, video-on-demand, and other streaming services …  

Viola Davis plays Ma Rainey, the mother of the blues, and Chadwick Boseman (in his final screen performance) is the fiery trumpeter in her band in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2020, R), a drama of music, power, ambition, and race in America set at Chicago recording studio in 1927. Tony Award-winning Broadway director George C. Wolfe helms the screen adaptation of the August Wilson play and Colman Domingo and Glynn Turman costar. Davis and Boseman are favored to get Oscar nominations. (Netflix)

Tenet” (2020, PG-13), Christopher Nolan’s high-concept thriller starring John David Washington as a nameless agent whose mission to save the world involves the unraveling of time, is a puzzle box of a mystery with spectacular set pieces. Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branagh costar. Nolan insisted that it get a theatrical release when major theaters were closed during the Covid lockdown, where it made back a fraction of its cost. Months later, it now debuts at home. (VOD and Cable On Demand, also on DVD and Blu-ray and at Redbox)

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, streaming

What to stream: ‘I’m Your Woman’ on Amazon, ‘The Prom’ and ‘Funny Boy’ on Netflix, ‘Let Them Talk on HBO Max

Here’s what’s new and ready to stream now on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, video-on-demand, and other streaming services …  

I’m Your Woman” (2020, R) stars Rachel Brosnahan as a housewife who goes on the run when gangsters come after her husband (Bill Heck), who has kept his criminal life hidden from her, and she’s forced to fend for herself when they come for her. Julia Hart directs this 1970s throwback crime thriller costarring Arinzé Kene and Marsha Stephanie Blake. (Amazon Prime Video, also available in HDR)

The Broadway musical comedy “The Prom” (2020, PG-13), about a group of stage actors who descend on a small Indiana town to support a lesbian couple barred from attending their high school prom, comes to the screen from director Ryan Murphy with Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, and James Corden as the Broadway performers. (Netflix)

Meryl Streep also stars in “Let Them All Talk” (2020, R) as novelist with writer’s block on a sea cruise with old friends (Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest) she hasn’t seen in some time. Steven Soderbergh directs the film, which was partly improvised, and Lucas Hedges and Gemma Chan co-star. (HBO Max)

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Science Fiction

2000 Eyes: Battlefield Earth

[Written for Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

“Man is an endangered species,” alerts the introductory card to this adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard’s Star Wars inspired epic sci-fi novel. It should have warned us that logic was also hitting hard times.

The year is 3000 and the place is Earth. After a millennium of brutal subjugation by the Psychlos (seemingly an unholy mating of Star Trek’s Klingon and Ferengi races), humans live like cavemen in the irradiated wilds, foraging through a dying Earth. Rebellious young Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper, in flowing locks and an unchanging expression of determined sincerity) searches for a better land and discovers a race of intergalactic corporate pirates, eight foot alien slavers sucking the planet dry of resources in the name of profit.

Read More “2000 Eyes: Battlefield Earth”
Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Horror

2000 Eyes: Scary Movie

[Written for Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

If the baddest of the Farrelly brothers bad taste gags has you in stitches, then this is the movie for you. For almost ninety minutes director Keenen Ivory Wayans tries to meld the pop-culture parodies of Airplane! and its ilk with jokes so crude and outrageously raunchy that even Jim Carrey would think twice. At a recent preview screening a pocket of college boys were not just laughing but actually hooting their appreciation.

Read More “2000 Eyes: Scary Movie”
Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: The 6th Day

[Originally written for Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

Arnold Schwarzenegger fans were perplexed by End of Days, the dreary, hysterical millennial thriller that marked his comeback from a two-year break. Hollywood’s favorite action hero was reduced to a cynical, burned-out husk of an alcoholic cop on a vaguely redemptive quest. Where was the wiseacre tough guy of few words and explosive action? Where was the beloved teddy bear of a Hollywood Hercules with a destructive streak? Where was Ah-nold?

Read More “2000 Eyes: The 6th Day”
Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, streaming

What to stream: ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ on Netflix, ‘The Right Stuff’ on Disney+, final seasons of ‘Schitt’s Creek’ and ‘Mr. Robot’

Here’s what’s new and ready to stream now on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, video-on-demand, and other streaming services …  

The Haunting of Bly Manor” (TV-MA), from “The Haunting of Hill House” creator Mike Flanagan, adapts the Henry James classic “The Turn of the Screw,” updating it to 1980s England. “Hill House” actor Henry Thomas stars as the isolated man who hires an American nanny (Victoria Pedretti) for his orphaned niece and nephew in his vast mansion. (Netflix)

The Right Stuff: Season 1” (TV-14) retells the story of the American space program and the pilots who became America’s pioneering astronauts. Based on the book by Tom Wolfe (which was previously made into the 1983 movie), it stars Patrick J. Adams, James Lafferty, Jake McDorman, and Colin O’Donoghue. Two episodes available, new episodes each Friday. (Disney+)

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: Titanic Town

[Written for Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

“We thought we’d left the Troubles behind,” voices 16-year-old Annie McPhelimy (Nuala O’Neill) in the opening moments. “They were just starting.” Her family moves into a modest brick home in Andersonstown, a Catholic district of West Belfast in 1972, to escape the violence of their previous neighborhood, but it isn’t long before an IRA guerrilla is poised on their porch firing into the streets. Bernie (Julie Walters) charges out like a mother bear, chasing him off more out of foolhardy temperament than actual courage.

Read More “2000 Eyes: Titanic Town”
Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: Two Family House

[Written for Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

There’s an engaging modesty to Raymond De Felitta’s Sundance Audience Winner Two Family House, a sweet little romantic drama set in the insular Italian and Irish neighborhoods of 1956 Staten Island and narrated with the conversational ease of a bar story.

Read More “2000 Eyes: Two Family House”
Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Sean Axmaker

2000 Eyes: But I’m A Cheerleader

[Written for Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

Natasha Lyonne (The Slums of Beverly Hills), the most sardonic young actress working today, puts on a cheery face and wears her pom-poms with pride as picture-perfect cheerleader Megan. But she’s got a problem: her boyfriend’s sloppy, slobbering kisses don’t get her all hot and bothered (“Maybe he just doesn’t do it right,” she ponders), she loves tofu, and she proudly hangs a Melissa Etheridge poster in her bedroom. In this cookie-cutter suburb of Anytown USA, those are the telltale signs of lesbianism.

Read More “2000 Eyes: But I’m A Cheerleader”