An Oscar nominee and Emmy winner for her documentaries, Rory Kennedy, the youngest of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s 11 children, has had a surprise smash hit with her horrifying but sadly true Netflix You Are There entry ‘The Volcano: Rescue from Whakaari.’ It was December 2019 that 47 people – tourists and “mostly very young’ guides – were on the New Zealand ‘White Island’ when the crater blew, spewing steam not lava, killing 22. Leonardo DiCaprio and Ron Howard are among the producers. In an interview for the HERALD, Kennedy discussed her film’s appeal and her process.
Q: Do you think part of the appeal is it’s like watching a car wreck, there’s a certain fascination? Or is it as you suggested, inspirational? It’s sort of a story about fate, how you can’t really know what’s going to happen.
RORY KENNEDY: I think that’s a big part of it. The latter I mean. I don’t like to think of it as kind of a car crash; I think there’s something more going on here because I think it’s also about nature. I mean, look at even today in the United States, there’s 45 states experiencing once in a generation weather events. We have these it seems every day or every week now. So even though this isn’t about climate change, to understand when people are experiencing these weather events — whether they’re fires which we went through in Los Angeles and had to evacuate (very scary) or the hurricanes, the tornadoes, the droughts, everything that we’re reading about, seeing and experiencing firsthand, these kinds of weather events speak to us. And it’s rare to have this kind of first-hand accounts and frontline footage to really understand what it’s like to be in the heart of that. And to see how powerful nature is. The world does in some way, I think for so many of us, feel a little out of control right now. This film is a reminder that even in the face of all that we’re dealing with, that there is something profound about humanity and connecting with each other and people looking out for each other. I don’t know. That’s quite, quite powerful right now.
Q: How long did it take for production from when you started this to get to December 16 when it popped on Netflix?
RK: It was a solid two-year experience. I’m really grateful because the experience of a lot of the people who had gone through this extraordinarily traumatic event, they didn’t necessarily have the best experience with the media who kind of swept in, in the immediate aftermath, and kind of took their stories and then left. I think that they didn’t have the best experience. So for us coming from the outside and going in, it was a little bit triggering. We had to build the trust in those relationships and help people understand that we were there for the long term. I was very happy that not only were we able to spend a good amount of time building those relationships in that trust, but also before the film came out on Netflix, we were able to return to New Zealand. It was actually right around the [3rd] anniversary and share the film with the people in the town that was probably most impacted by this event. A lot of the people who were impacted by this were there at the screening. It was a closed screening for family members and people who were in the film. I think that was quite meaningful, that we came back and shared it with them before sharing it with the world. And the response was very heartening and positive. The folks in the film seem to feel very good about it. So that makes me feel quite good.
Q: The whole idea of tourism, around something with this kind of potential. Will this documentary, Rory, ever change perhaps other tourist sites around the world that are flirting with danger you might say?
RK: I don’t know the answer. I do think there’s something in us humans that are drawn to these natural phenomenon and are drawn to experiencing exhilaration in nature and interacting with nature in these ways. Sometimes in ways that are dangerous. So I don’t know that this film is going to stop that. Maybe it’s a human instinct on some level. For New Zealand, you just feel like you’re on a volcano when you land in New Zealand. I mean, it’s just full of them and it’s such a part of the landscape. There’s a ski mountain there that’s on a volcano and it’s often at a Level 2. And people continue to ski there.
TRIPLE CHUCK Chuck Norris had an unexpected star trajectory, and the ‘Missing in Action Trilogy’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, R) pretty much defines his groove and continued appeal. The Air Force veteran-turned-Hollywood martial artist entered movies as a villain opposite Bruce Lee in the 1972 ‘Way of the Dragon.’ Norris soon established himself as an action martial arts star in a series in independent films, then for the major studios before making a multiple picture deal with Cannon Films, a low-brow, high-profit outfit where he reigned as its ‘80s star with hits like ‘The Delta Force,’ and ‘Invasion US.,’ He then segued to television with the long-running ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ series (which is now enjoying a successful reboot). The ‘Missing in Action Trilogy’ kicked off Norris’s Cannon collaboration with the 1984 ‘Missing,’ ‘Missing in Action 2’ in ’85 and ‘Braddock Missing in Action III’ in ’88. Basically it replays Vietnam — only with the Yanks winning and, in the final round, Braddock’s rescuing from the despicable Commies the wife and kid he presumed were dead.
GLORIOUS IRISH STORYTELLING Among the year’s most celebrated dramas, Martin McDonagh’s ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ (Blu-ray + Digital Code) is a perfectly keyed follow-up to his Oscar-winning ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.’ Like Ebbing, which doesn’t exist, neither does the 1923 Irish island of Inisherin, where McDonagh considers the repercussions in a ruptured friendship between Colm (Brendan Gleeson), a would-be musical composer and violinist, and Padraic (Colin Farrell). It’s a horror story set during Ireland’s Civil War where death by execution is a constant in the town across the bay. Nominated for 8 Golden Globes and 9 Critics Choice, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
BUZZ DOUBLE FEATURE Director Buzz Kulik scores a double Blu-ray debut with his Lee Marvin 1968 ‘Sergeant Ryker’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) and the all-star ’67 ‘Warning Shot’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) where David Janssen (TV’s original ‘The Fugitive’) heads a cast that ranges from the silent era’s legendary Lillian Gish, the equally legendary Joan Collins, future ‘All in the Family’ star Carroll O’Connor, ‘All About Eve’ veteran George Sanders, ‘Mrs. Miniver’ husband Walter Pidgeon and the multiple Oscar nominee Eleanor Parker (‘Interrupted Melody’). ‘Warning Shot’ has the unfortunately still topical scenario of Janssen’s cop killing a suspect and then being branded a liar and trigger-happy killer. There’s a bit of all-too-typical ‘60s homophobia in a smug fashion shoot setting with a pathetic queen being mocked. Marvin was at the peak of his popularity after ‘The Dirty Dozen’ which is why this Korean War drama ‘Ryker” was released in ’68. It was originally a 2-part 1963 TV drama, ‘The Case Against Paul Ryker.’ Now in a brand new 2K master, it’s also a case of a lone man – Marvin’s Sgt. Ryker – being charged with treason while he insists what he did was all because of a top-secret mission. Co-starring ‘Psycho’ star Vera Miles and Peter Graves (‘Airplane!’). Seymour ‘Buzz’ Kulik (1922-99) directed 72 films and TV shows, including key ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes, the fact-inspired interracial male weepie ‘Brian’s Song’ and Steve McQueen’s final film ‘The Hunter.’ Bonus: Audio commentaries on both films.
PEAK DELON A huge hit in the UK and censored, retitled and virtually invisible in the US, Jack Cardiff’s 1968 ‘Girl on a Motorcycle’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, R) teams 2 of the era’s most iconic stars: France’s heartthrob Alain Delon (who had exactly 2 weeks to film his role due to prior commitments) and Britain’s Marianne Faithfull who as the title suggests is the focus, riding along her Harley Davidson in her black motorcycle jacket and fantasizing about her sex life. Faithfull was for 5 years in Swinging Sixties London a tabloid fixture as Mick Jagger’s girlfriend. She was also celebrated as an actress and a singer. Cardiff, a semi-genius cinematographer (‘Black Narcissus,’ ‘Sons and Lovers,’ ‘The African Queen,’ ‘The Red Shoes’) turned director, devised a way of pixilating the images to evade X-rated sexual situations, giving them a dream-like quality or ‘pulsating psychedelic hues’ as the copy goes. In his audio commentary Cardiff notes how easy work was with both stars. Faithfull would go on to fight her demons – anorexia, drugs, homelessness – before rebounding in 1979 with one of the all time great comebacks, releasing her album ‘Broken English’ with a now distinctive raspy, world-weary delivery.
CARRIE RETURNS! HBO’s decision to revive ‘Sex and the City’ with its original but now older if not wiser cast meant that the famous quartet would become a trio, since Kim Cattrall reportedly refused all entreaties to return. It didn’t matter, neither did critical brickbats. ‘And Just Like That: The Complete First Season’ (DVD, WB, Not Rated) with Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie, Cynthia Nixon’s Miranda and Kristen Davis as Charlotte found a huge embrace with its audience. A 2nd season is assured.
SENSUOUS PAIR INDEED It’s seriously steamy big-screen time when Richard Gere (‘Looking for Mr. Goodbar’) teams with lustrous Kim Basinger (a future Oscar winner as a Veronica Lake lookalike hooker in ‘LA Confidential’) in the 1986 action thriller ‘No Mercy’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, R). Gere’s cop means to avenge his partner’s death which, of course (!), leads him to an affair with Basinger, the murderer’s girlfriend. The killer is the enticingly cast Dutch star Jeroen Krabbé, a star of Paul Verhoeven’s ‘The Fourth Man’ and Harrison Ford’s 1993 big screen version of ‘The Fugitive.’ The action moves from Chicago to steamy New Orleans and adjacent steamy swamps. BONUS: Krabbé interview.
BOXED SILENTS ‘Cinema’s First Nasty Women: An Irreverent Four-Disc Collection’ (Blu-ray, Kino Classics, Not Rated) is 14 hours-plus silents devoted to feminine protest, gender play and slapstick rebellion. Here are 99 American and European silents, produced from 1898 to 1926, selected from international film archives and libraries with all-new musical scores, video introductions, commentaries and a 116-page lavishly illustrated booklet. English, French and Spanish subtitles.
TWO FINE FOREIGN FILMS These 2 new Blu-rays are inspirational stories that share a commitment to truth telling, despite horrible consequences. Fernando Trueba’s ‘Memories of My Father’ (Blu-ray, Cohen, Not Rated) is the latest drama from the Oscar winner of ‘Belle Epoque.’ It’s a portrait of a Colombian doctor and peace activist standing strong against the corrupt forces of chaotic 1970s Medellin, Colombia. Adapted from the best-selling ‘Oblivion: A Memoir” by the doctor’s son. In Spanish with English subtitles, and an interview with Columbia U. film historian Annette Insdorf. Italy’s Marco Tullio Giordana’s ‘One Hundred Steps’ (Blu-ray, RARO, Not Rated) is a Golden Globe-nominated 2001 true-life drama that recreates the fear and malevolence the Sicilian mafia exerted in the 1970s. Peppino Impastato (Luigi Lo Casciol) is fearless in his humorous denunciation of the mob on his local radio show. It was an era when people were so afraid of the mafia that politicians would openly declare it didn’t exist. Peppino paid a brutal price for his candor. In Italian with optional English subtitles.
TIME TRIPPING SAMURAI A major star in Japan, Hiroshi Fujioka even has a planet named for him. His 1984 time-tripping ‘Ghost Warrior’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, R) finds Fujioki, a samurai warrior, waking from a 400 year deep sleep to find himself in contemporary LA. It’s definitely a fish out of water scenario as with swords and ancient skills ‘Yoshi’ must battle new enemies in a future he could never have imagined. Action film historians offer an audio commentary and special makeup effects artist Robert Short is interviewed.
CURSES! In ‘Death Knot’ (Blu-ray, Well Go USA, Not Rated) their mother has died, a suicide, and so the 2 surviving children return to her home. Nice? Not quite! The villagers don’t think this is a good idea. At all. Their mother, their childhood home – are both cursed. Cursed! Therefore, her mother, the villagers have decided, was some kind of witch, responsible for every unexplained death. To rid her presence, her ’curse,’ from the village they must…. burn down the house. Her children? Initially skeptical edge towards horrified converts. Does that mean The End? In Indonesian with optional English subtitles.
THE END? REALLY? Jamie Lee Curtis is finally saying farewell to the Scream Queen role of babysitter turned survivor Laurie Strodes in the concluding chapter of this rebooted trilogy ‘Halloween Ends’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Code, Universal, R). Or is she? We know Michael Myers will never, ever die – he’s like Dracula, he’s always come back some way, somehow. But Laurie? As it begins ‘Ends’ has a disturbing fatality with a little boy’s tragic death. That seems destined, surely, to eventually tie in with Myers’ menacing, all-embracing evil. BONUS: Deleted/extended scenes, Behind the Scenes and several featurettes.