Killing Season (2013) UK Premiere & John Travolta In Conversation
Honestly, the things I do for you people. I’m not sure how to start this report from Tuesday’s curious evening at the BFI, other than to say that I loathe John Travolta. Now I have nothing against John Travolta as a human being of course, I’m sure he’s exceedingly generous with charitable donations, loves his wife and kids, and hugs puppies and promotes equal rights for all, what I’m referencing is of course ‘John Travolta’ the screen persona, the actor who for reasons I can’t quite logically articulate or justify I can barely watch on-screen without feeling an indistinct stirring of irritation and mild hatred. I’m not sure why this is, I’m certainly not proud of the antipathy, but I think we all have for some horrible reason an aversion to certain people and public personas who just wind us up for intangible reasons, as I’m betting there is some celebrity figure from the realm of media, entertainment, politics (actually scratch that one, most of them are irritating aren’t they?) whom also riles you up and makes your skin crawl, and you will actively go out of your way to avoid a movie, a TV series, a chatshow appearance or interview which includes this frustrating figure. It was therefore with a mild sense of nausea that I attended the UK premiere screening of his new film Killing Season followed by an exceptionally rare Jonathan Ross hosted Q&A on Tuesday evening, and already the event had irked me as it clashed with a screening of Herzog’s Stroszek which I had to cancel, as in the interests for the blog I thought that this might be of a slightly higher film culture visibility than one of Werner’s suicide inducing screen ballads. In any case it was quite a curious event, so let’s begin with the trailer and a capsule review of the film;
As you may have gleaned from that the trailer the film was terrible, a supposed cat and mouse game between retired US veteran Benjamin Ford (De Niro) and the hilariously incomprehensibly accented Emil Kovac (Travolta) twenty years after De Niro’s UN platoon discovered a massacre during the Yugoslavian war, and decide to take justice into their own hands and summarily execute the Serbian marauders led by Travolta. This ludicrously offensive films begins with a portentous context setting crawl about how serious and solemn the conflict was before hard cutting to an exciting twitchy-cam combat sequence – and this tonal repulsion is only compounded by a script which then meanders through the most pedestrian route of character development and conflict interaction between the slumming leads. You know a film has rejected any semblance to credulity or emotional engagement when in one scene one of the characters instructs the other to stake himself to the ground by inserting a steel rod and tassel through the void created by an earlier arrow wound, and this is just one of the early problems of tis deeply tedious and tawdry film which increasingly obeys the simple ‘I’ve got the upper hand, no a-ha now I’ve got the upper hand’ model of so-called tension and suspense. You can pretty much chart the entire trajectory of the mercifully short 90 minutes directly through to the final shot, and as usual Travolta is just hilariously serious and studious with an approach to acting which finishes with plastering on some make-up, adopting some ridiculous facial features and emitting the worse accent since Don Cheadle’s Ocean’s 13 cockney rhymed Jeremy Hunt. In short, avoid at all costs.
I do like Jonathan Ross as a UK movie culture figure (I haven’t watched any of his chat show stuff in decades) as he clearly has a genuine breath, knowledge and passion for the artform from obscure B movies and exploitation pics out to the established and revered classics, we all remember the fantastic shows he fronted and commissioned back in the 1980’s don’t we? On stage you can see just what a brilliant interviewer he is, he’s quite disarming and isn’t afraid to prick that self-important celebrity bubble when the occasion demands (‘John, exactly what accent was that you were using in the film?’) and he asked the more serious instructive questions on Travolta’s collaborations with De Palma and Malick alongside the inevitable attention lavished on the likes of Saturday Night Fever and of course Pulp Fiction. I thought Travolta was quite a guarded persona despite his batting away Wossy’s most direct questions – ‘You’re seen as something of a remote figure, do you take refuge behind any screen persona? – with a simple ‘This is me, what you see is what is get’ reply, although of course he did shy away from any Scientology queries or indeed any reference to the classic Battlefield Earth which curiously was also omitted from a ten minute context setting montage that the BFI threw together to inaugurate the interview.
There were some reasonably smart questions from the audience as well, one asking his insider opinion on the current state of the industry which he lamented for the move toward spectacle and away from character driven pieces. Well, this is course a perfectly fair point and it’s all very well bemoaning the lack of character based vehicles in todays American marketplace but when you’re actively producing unimaginative, formulaic dreck like Killing Season which from its script stage must have blatantly obvious that it isn’t delving into anything other than Hollywood archetypes of conflict equaling character, of violence eclipsing any other solution to progress (which is exactly the point the film is so wistfully and therefore hypocritically espousing) then you really don’t have a wounded leg to stand on, not to mention how you’re devolving an incredibly complex array of social, historical and political forces which led to the conflict down to two guys violently fucking each other up for an hour without any real consequence or physical cost. Still, I did warm to Travolta a little when he got on to the fun they had shooting Face Off between Nick Cage and John Woo impersonating each other, I must give that another watch as that was a fun action movie and there was a fairly amusing running gag about how Richard Gere essentially wouldn’t have a career if he didn’t seize upon the parts which Travolta had rejected like discarded crumbs from his table (American Giglio, An Officer & A Gentleman, Days Of Heaven), although I was surprised to hear that with the latter Travolta was Malick’s first choice for the male lead, and it was studio machinations to award Gere the part which heavily contributed to his disgust with the industry and self-imposed Paris exile for the next twenty years. I was also just as intrigued to see Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston in the audience a few rows from me, she’s an actress in her own right which you may recognise from the likes of Jerry McGuire, Twins and the yuletide ‘classic’ Jack Frost, I have some slightly more formative adolescent memories of her from the movie Mischief which I’m sure some of you hairy palmed perverts will also fondly remember…..