Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, James Ransone, Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan
Filmmaker Ti West has made his most conventionally enjoyable movie to date. Best known for horror films like “The House of the Devil,” “The Innkeepers” and “The Sacrament,” West tackles a new genre with “In a Valley of Violence,” a western starring Ethan Hawke and John Travolta. While West’s previous films get you squirming, his latest effort may have you cheering thanks to its sparse, enigmatic storytelling.
Paul (Hawke) isn’t exactly a loner. Although he’s tortured and on a path to nowhere, he has Abby at his side. Abby is his dog, and she sometimes looks after him just as much as he looks after her. When Paul enters the rundown town of Denton, nicknamed the “valley of violence,” he crosses paths with the hotheaded Gilly (James Ransone), the son of local sheriff, The Marshal (Travolta). Gilly thinks he’s the most dangerous man in town and challenges any man who questions his power. But when Paul leaves him bloodied, bruised and embarrassed after a beating that in no way constitues as a fight, Gilly and his men go after Paul’s dog for revenge, unaware that they’re dealing with one seriously flawed, dangerous military man who’s trained to kill. As Paul puts it, Gilly and his men left him with nothing, and he’s going to leave them with even less.
For someone who’s best known for his work in prime-time soap operas (“Falcon Crest”), syndicated action series (“Renegade”), and straight-to-video shoot-’em-ups (including the “Snake Eater” trilogy, among many, many others), Lorenzo Lamas is a pretty funny fellow, and he gets a chance to show that side of himself – along with several other sides, to say the least – when “The Joe Schmo Show” returns to Spike TV tonight at 10 PM / 9 CST. Lamas took some time to chat with Bullz-Eye before and after the show’s panel at the winter Television Critics Association press tour, and he talked about how much fun he’s having showing off his comedy chops while also taking time to delve into his life and times up to this point.
Bullz-Eye: Well, I was able to watch the first two episodes…
Lorenzo Lamas: Oh, yeah…? How did you like it? What did you think about it?
BE: It was great. I liked the first season, but I never actually saw the second season. But this looks like it’s right on par with what the show’s been like before.
LL: From what I gather, the guy they cast for this “Schmo” is a lot different than the first guy. And what I’m gathering is that…the first guy was just a really great, friendly, open, more innocent kind of guy. Like, a real Joe Schmo, y’know? [Laughs.] Whereas I found Chase to be a very analytical, intelligent, not quite as naïve guy.
BE: Yeah, he seemed like a sweetheart, but he also seemed like a guy who really wanted to win, too.
LL: Yeah, really competitive. Absolutely.
BE: So how did you find your way into this? Did they approach you, or was there a casting call and you heard about it?
LL: You know, John Stevens and I had done something last year together – a pilot for an action show, a hybrid that was part reality, part scripted – so we met on that project, and then when Sharon Levy talked to John about doing this version of “Joe Schmo,” John says, “Well, what do you think of Lorenzo Lamas?” So he kind of brought it up to Sharon, and then Sharon asked, “Does Lorenzo do comedy?” Because the whole idea is this 10-day-long improv where everyone’s in character and they have to really stay in character. So John called me and said, “I’ve got something that’s kind of out of left field, but…would you be interested in doing this show?” And then he kind of formulated a pitch to me. And I had just finished doing “The Eric Andre Show,” and I loved it. That was improv, too. I did one episode, then they brought me back and did another episode. I’d just finished doing it, so I said, “You know, John, I think this might be meant to be…” Because prior to that, I’d also done a couple of episodes of the Nickelodeon show “Big Time Rush.” I played Doc Hollywood, who’s a bigger-than-life character, almost slapstick comedy. And I’ve been enjoying that. I’ve been enjoying the change, wrapping my mind around just…not doing action, y’know?
Is “Pulp Fiction” the greatest movie of the 1990s? That seems to be a popular talking point on the eve of the film’s Blu-ray release, with everyone from Entertainment Weekly to star John Travolta (on one of the disc’s new special features) making their case for the argument. Whether or not you agree doesn’t really matter, because Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore effort is definitely up there among the best, which only makes the film’s numerous snubs at the 1995 Academy Awards (particularly for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor) seem even more egregious nearly two decades later.
Though I thought about putting together a list of my five favorite scenes from the film in celebration of the Blu-ray release, I quickly realized that there were far too many great moments to choose from to settle on just five. The movie was already pretty close to perfect when I first saw it on DVD as a teenager, and it’s even closer to perfection now after receiving the Blu-ray treatment. It’s sometimes easy to forget how much a good high definition video transfer can do for a film’s presentation, but the director-approved HD transfer on “Pulp Fiction” is absolutely stunning. And yet, while the movie looks better than ever, the disc’s brand new special features are the real standout additions.
The first featurette, “Not the Usual Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat,” is a 43-minute retrospective that includes interviews from several key cast members about everything from getting involved in the project, to production, to the Cannes premiere and the film’s subsequent success. While there are a few notable absences from the list of participants (like Tarantino, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames), it’s still loaded with tons of interesting facts about making the film. Travolta and Jackson are particularly enlightening, with the former revealing that he was initially pitched the lead role in “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn” before landing the part of Vincent (a role originally given to Michael Madsen) and the latter telling a funny anecdote about the history behind Jules’ Jheri-curled wig.
The other featurette is a film critic roundtable moderated by Elvis Mitchell entitled “Here Are Some Facts on the Fiction” that, while not as revealing as the retrospective, offers up an engaging conversation about each critic’s first experience seeing “Pulp Fiction” and their thoughts about the movie. It’s especially fascinating to listen to Stephanie Zacharek discuss her love/hate relationship with the film, as it appears to take the other critics (all of whom regard it as a modern masterpiece) by surprise. That doesn’t exactly make the debate over whether “Pulp Fiction” is the best movie of the ‘90s any easier to settle, but then again, the question itself is ultimately more important than the answer.
High school: it’s a rite of passage we all must endure. Some of us weep when it’s over, others can’t wait to say goodbye forever, but for better or worse, it’s an experience that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. The same goes for some of the many TV series that have been set in high school. Here at Bullz-Eye, we’ve polled our writers for their favorite shows within the genre, and the end result is, not unlike high school itself, a mixture of both comedy and drama.
12. Life As We Know It (ABC, 2004 – 2005): Lasting only 11 episodes before ABC unceremoniously yanked it from the air, “Life As We Know It” premiered during perhaps the most cancel-happy era in television. Developed by two of the producers of “Freaks and Geeks” (maybe the writing was already on the wall), the series may have ultimately been undone by poor ratings, but the Parents Television Council’s campaign against the show’s sexual themes certainly didn’t help. Then again, when you green light a series based on a controversial young-adult novel called “Doing It” that follows the exploits of a trio of best friends (Sean Faris, Jon Foster and Chris Lowell) navigating the highs and lows of adolescence, you can hardly pretend to be surprised when its characters discuss sex on a fairly regular basis.
Featuring a great cast of young up-and-comers that also included Missy Peregrym and Kelly Osbourne (yes, that Kelly Osbourne, who’s never been cuter than she was here), “Life As We Know It” certainly wasn’t perfect by any means, but it easily outshined similar shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “The O.C.,” particularly in its handling of its adult characters. The series wasn’t without the usual high school clichés, but the writers never shied away from edgier material, either – like a student having a secret affair with his teacher or a star jock dealing with performance issues – resulting in a smart, sweet and incredibly honest look at how sex changes everything. – Jason Zingale
11. Welcome Back, Kotter (ABC, 1975 – 1979): Despite suffering through remedial classes and acting far more rebellious than was deemed socially acceptable, Gabe Kotter (played by the suspiciously similarly-named Gabe Kaplan) still somehow managed to graduate from James Buchanan High School, but who would have thought that the dreams that were his ticket out would lead him back there? (John Sebastian did, of course, but that’s not really relevant to this discussion.) With his teacher certification tucked into his back pocket, Kotter returns to his alma mater and takes on the challenge of trying to educate the new generation of remedial students. Oh, sure, their names have all changed since he hung around – now they’re called Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes) – but they’re still “sweathogs” all the way.
Most would likely agree that “Welcome Back, Kotter” was at its best when it was still the original four Sweathogs, i.e. before Travolta slipped away from television, put on a white suit, and found big-screen success on the dance floor, but even at its funniest, few would probably describe it as the most realistic look into high school life.
“I don’t think anyone was trying to replicate the high school experience so much as they were trying to service those particular characters and write stories about them,” said Mark Evanier, who served as a story editor for the show. “If you could get a good joke out of it, great…though there were times I think we settled for a decent catch-phrase.”
While the words “up your nose with a rubber hose” lend credence to Evanier’s theory, the Marx-Brothers-inspired chemistry between the Sweathogs helps their slapstick shenanigans hold up nonetheless. And, besides, who needs realism when you’ve got Gabe Kaplan doing Groucho? – Will Harris
10. Glee (Fox, 2009 – present): Is it telling that one of the most popular current shows on TV came it at only the #10 spot? If nothing else, maybe it proves we here at Bullz-Eye aren’t prone to fads. Except that maybe we are, as “Glee” has made it onto our TV Power Rankings lists time and again since its debut. But this list isn’t about what entertains us in the broader sense; it’s about great high school shows. As entertaining as “Glee” can be, it has almost nothing real to say about the high school experience, and in fact most of the high school kids I know find it to be pretty nonsensical.
The one area that it seems to excel in as far as capturing the high school experience is in its ability to play romantic musical chairs with its cast of teenage characters. These kids are fickle, and the only guarantee that seems to come with a relationship on “Glee” is that sooner or later it’s going to end. Some props should probably also be given for their attempt to zero in on the bullying issue that so seems to afflict kids today, but “Glee” chose to unfortunately treat the topic with kid gloves rather than say something truly meaningful. None of this is to say that “Glee” isn’t one hell of an entertaining series, because it is, but anyone looking for something a little deeper would do best to dust off their old DVD of “The Breakfast Club.” – Ross Ruediger