Welcome to another round of the Seattle Cinema Survey, where I give local critics and writers the opportunity to look like fools by giving terrible, terrible replies to the various movie-themed questions I ask them.
This week, the inspiration is one Antoine Fuqua, whose remake of The Magnificent Seven arrives Friday. With a steady career, Fuqua is still often cited for directing Training Day, the sole project to his name that’s generally beloved. Which got me wondering; What’s the best cinematic one-hit wonder?
I offered no limits to our contributors, though I’m putting some on my own reply. For one, it can’t be the sole great work due to early retirement/death/etc. Secondly, it had to be made a person whose filmography is relatively deep, be it a journeyman or a hack like, say, Brett Ratner.
As an elitist prick, I had to go with someone Dutch who began his career as a notable cinematographer, before making one amazing piece of cinema and then having a career spiral into a cobweb of bad sequels and remakes. Yes, I’m going with Mr. Jan de Bont and a little slice of heaven that is assuredly playing on TNT right now; Speed.
The middle chapter of Keanu’s 90s action masterpiece set (bookended by Point Break and The Matrix), Speed had de Bont going full Die Hard on a bus, a fitting move since his hand was a significant reason that Bruce Willis classic remains so beloved. Speed is a thrilling collection of awesome stunts, likeable characters and a pure popcorn premise of bus slow down equals bad. Followed up by the not awful Twister, de Bont then did Speed 2: Cruise Control (ludicrous woof), an update of The Haunting (awful woof) and the second Lara Croft (boring woof). Having his own playground of toys only made for excellence once with de Bont, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.
Tim Hall of The People’s Critic Blog @peoplescrtic
It has to be 1991’s Straight Out of Brooklyn by Matty Rich. Rich went on to direct 1994’s Inkwell but nothing compared to how raw and real Straight Out of Brooklyn was. SOB was such a masterpiece, everyone thought Rich was the next Spike Lee. He was on the same trajectory John Singleton was on after Boyz n The Hood.
SOB is a great story about a young man planning to rob a drug dealer. It stars The Wire’s Lawrence Gillard Jr as the film’s main character. He gives a phenomenal performance in a story that’s real and grounded. At the time, people saw crime and criminals in the inner city as people who were savages. SOB showed a young man who was desperate to change his situation and didn’t have too many options other than to rob.
Dennis’ story is as humanizing as it is doomed from the start.
SOB and Matty Rich are easily forgotten despite the film being a staple for cinema in the early 90’s. It’s well worth a watch.
Drew Powell of Queen Anne News/Drew’s Movie Blog @
Antoine Fuqua and Training Day is an obvious choice for this question but I’m going with the dreamy The Night of the Hunter, the one and only film directed by British acting legend Charles Laughton. Part film noir and part surrealistic nightmare, The Night of the Hunter is one of the weirdest, most beautiful (the movie was photographed by Orson Welles collaborator Stanley Cortez in gorgeous black and white and its visual design was heavily inspired by German Expressionism) film’s I’ve ever seen. And major props goes to Robert Mitchum–giving a truly menacing, spine-tingling performance as a charismatic but psychopathic preacher. Due to poor box office and lackluster critic reviews at the time (it has since been rightly reevaluated as a classic) Laughton didn’t direct again. It’s a shame but at the same time making one great film is a difficult task. Laughton can at least be proud (in cinema heaven) that his solo directorial effort is a bona fide masterpiece. And one that firmly sits in my personal top ten of all time.
Brent McKnight of Cinema Blend/The Last Thing I See @BrentMMcKnight
There are so many one-hit-wonder directors to choose from, this is going to be tough. Shit, if I were Charles Laughton and made The Night of the Hunter, I might never make another movie either. Tons of actors have tried their hand behind the camera once. Jack Lemmon’s Kotch wracked up a bunch of Oscar nominations, James Cagney delivered an effective film noir with Short Cut to Hell, and I can’t be the only one who saw and loved Bill Murray’s Quick Change in the theater in 1990, can I? Kinka Usher’s Mystery Men, his only feature directorial effort, is a movie I’m still surprised isn’t one of the premiere cult movies of this generation. All things considered, however, I have to go with Trent Harris’ Rubin and End.
Saying Trent Harris had a “hit” with Rubin and Ed is, admittedly, a stretch. It’s also not his only feature (The Beaver Trilogy and Plan 10 From Outer Space are his other most notable titles, though he never had much more of a career), but it’s his opus. It’s a goddamned wing-nut masterpiece that everyone should watch at least once in their life.
A delightfully bizarre road trip buddy comedy about two republicans wandering the desert looking for a place to bury a cat, Rubin and Ed is endlessly quotable, weirdly gorgeous, more moving than you might expect, and flat out fucking strange.
More myth than movie, in college I watched it three midnights in a row at the old UA theater downtown. They showed Harris’ personal print, which may or may not have been the only one left in existence. Pre-Ebay, I spent months tracking down an original VHS copy (still one of my prized possessions, made even more so with a Crispin Glover autograph—the only autograph I’ve ever sought out), which was no easy feat since the distributor supposedly rounded up and destroyed as many as possible.
Mike Ward of Should I See It @ShouldISeeIt
Tony Kaye and American History X, although perhaps an asterisk should be added next to his name because to this day, he disavows the final cut that made the film famous and saw Edward Norton give arguably his career-best performance.
The production was completed in mid-1997 and Kaye turned in a final cut of AHX. Although New Line Cinema was impressed with the film, they gave Kaye a long list of suggested edits and alterations. Kaye agreed and turned in a shorter, far more truncated version of the film, more than a year after the studio requested the changes! This frustrated everyone, including Norton, who Kaye was already angry about having to work with when his choice for the lead, Joaquin Phoenix, declined the project because he felt the script was distasteful and unacceptable.
Kaye also fought with his screenwriter David McKenna during the course of the production and initially warmed to the idea of Norton’s becoming so invested in the project because he liked Norton’s ideas on how to improve the script. However, Kaye’s second cut made everyone frustrated and New Line circumvented Kaye and gave all the footage to newly hired editor Jerry Greenberg and Norton, allowed to assist in crafting the final cut of the film. The film was released on October 30, 1998.
Prior to release, Kaye was outraged, claimed the film was stolen from him and applied for an Alan Smithee credit. When the DGA denied his request, he demanded he be credited as “Humpty Dumpty”. That didn’t happen either.
Ultimately, Norton earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination and the film has been viewed as a controversial, polarizing screed on racism. Elements of it are ever so pertinent to this day. Kaye, however, has largely been shunned from the industry. His second film, the 2007 documentary Lake of Fire, took him 16 years to complete and served as a graphic, unflinching look at abortion, which included footage of an actual procedure amidst its black-and-white, 152 minute running time, Kaye has all but vanished. His legacy of music videos preceded his foray into feature films, but the bridges burned are legendary and American History X stands as his one (and likely only) great film.
Matt Oakes of Silver Screen Riot @SSRdotcom
Mr. Dan O’Bannon met and collaborated with John Carpenter at film school and wrote a treatment for what would eventually become Dark Star. For a short while, he worked as an animator on the original Star Wars and later banded with Ronald Shusett to write Alien, for which he would also supervise computer effects. But O’Bannon only stepped behind the camera twice and the world is a lesser place for it. His debut, Return of the Living Dead, was a shocking strike; a horror-comedy that spawned an instant cult following and has aged immensely well since its 1985 reveal. Return of the Living Dead is a personal favorite, an absurd, irreverent addition to an absurd, irreverent genre with an instantly iconic cast of punk rockers and ill-favored company men and some of the best practical effects in any horror movie ever (Tarman FTW!). O’Bannon later returned behind the camera in 1992 for The Resurrected, an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft novella, but was not quite able to capture that same lightning in a bottle. He would never direct again.
Sara Michelle Fetters of Seattle Gay News/MovieFreak @moviefreaksara
There are so many great answers to this question, not the least of which would be 1955’s The Night of the Hunter directed by actor Charles Laughton, shockingly the ONLY movie he ever stepped behind the camera to helm. Others that come to mind include Erik Skjoldbjærg’s Insomnia with Stellan Skarsgård, George Sluizer’s terrifying 1988 version of The Vanishing, Adam McKay’s astonishingly good The Big Short, George Clooney’s superb Good Night, and Good Luck. and Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire (although, admittedly he also made Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, so maybe Hudson had more than one, but that’s open for debate).
But I’m going to go off the beaten path a little, and while Chopping Mall is hardly a “great” movie, per se, it’s so manically entertaining, so much unadulterated B-movie fun, director Jim Wynorski’s 1986 gem leapt to mind before just about any other title. The story of a group of amorous twenty-somethings trapped in a L.A. mall after hours with a trio of malfunctioning security robots intent on hunting them down, this film epitomizes the 1980s underground horror craze to perfection, its ingenious VHS cover art beckoning a generation of intrigued viewers who have gone on to make it a cult favorite that has more that stood the test of time.
For Wynorski, a filmmaker who has spent three decades closely associated with Roger Corman, this is without a doubt the pinnacle of his long, seemingly unstoppable schlock career (he just directed Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre and CobraGator, I kid you not). His script for Chopping Mall, co-written with Steve Mitchell, is surprisingly nimble, playing with genre tropes and clichés in a variety of imaginative ways that are as amusing as they are effective. More than that, he presents characters who are actually worth caring for, and while none of them would ever be considered “complex” or “multidimensional” that does not make them any less worthy an emotional investment.
Throw in arguably the greatest head explosion of all-time (Scanners probably edges it out, but not be near as much as you might think), three sensationally designed robots (created by Oscar-winner Robert Short) and playful performances from Night of the Comet’s Kelli Maroney and Re-Animator’s Barbara Crampton (just to name the two most familiar names; the entire cast is pretty terrific), this movie is a total sensation that just gets better and better with each passing year. Considering its from the guy whose only other noteworthy features are Deathstalker II and a Not of This Earth remake, to call Chopping Mall Wynorski’s best is a decided understatement. Thank you…and have a nice day.
Brian Taibl of Brian the Movie Guy @MovieGuyBrian
There are a few solid, near-respectable choices in this survey category…
…but if any critic here chooses something other than The Empire Strike Back (from director Irvin Kershner) then that critic is not to be trusted.
If you need me to explain my choice then you’re not to be trusted either.
Erik Samdahl of Film Jabber @Filmjabber
Donnie fucking Darko.