(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/LIBERTY LANE PRODUCTIONS/RUTHLESS PICTURES (103 minutes; Unrated); 2015)
Your parents always told you that bad things would happen if you lied to them or let your friends (or a bunch of people you thought were your friends) influence you to do something stupid, like partying in the haunted woods just outside of town. THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST is truth positive that your parents were right… if you go to a party in the woods (or the beach or your bestie’s house or anywhere, really), an evil, murderous spirit will follow you home and harm your loved ones. Of course, this has been happening since the dawn of mankind, which is why parents are always warning their kids about such wanton teenage frivolity but, as most teens are – at the very least – hard-headed or – far more often than would seem possible – brain dead and insist on “making our own mistakes,” and why the curse continues to thrive. And, this is why filmmakers continue to make movies warning about the dangers proscribed above.
THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (publicity still)
Marina Petrano plays Paige, the questionable teenager… I mean, the teenager in question who, against her better judgment and her parents’ express wishes, is asked by her friend, Ava (played with a stunning indifference by Weston Adwell), to go to a party in the secluded and preternatural Borley Forest. When Ava does a no-show, Paige, bored with the illicit high-jinx and illegal shenanigans of the boorish people that make up her friend’s clique, starts looking for a ride home. Naturally, she gets lost in the woods (I mean… seriously, what self-respecting horror story doesn’t involve somebody getting lost somewhere?), ending up under the “haunted ghost” tree of Borley Forest, where a local lynch mob exacted their own kind of justice on a pair of brothers believed to be responsible for the disappearances of at least three teenage girls during the 1950s. From that point forward, strange and unexplained things started happening to Paige and her friends and family, with an odd “stalker/love interest” plot device tossed in to put savvy horror movie buffs off the scent of what was really happening.
THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (Marina Petrano) (publicity still)
Yeah… that doesn’t really work when the antagonist is featured in the title of the movie but, as padding and uncomfortable dialogue go, I reckon this definitely qualifies; plus, it adds a little something extra for the TWILIGHT set to glom onto and keep them interested, I suppose. Keeping the last two sentences in mind, the original title of the film was YOU WILL LOVE ME but, I guess, the producers figured that would be a dead giveaway to the plot and changed it to something less obvious. After being left high-and-dry by Ava and amazingly turned on/freaked out by the attentions of older new guy Cooper (a rather bemused Nicholas Barrera in one of the better performances in the film), Paige turns to another friend, Jenna (Rebecca Barrow Hall), for consolation; when the pair is attacked by the demon ghost, Jenna becomes a true teenager, as catatonia sets in. Confused by the attack on Jenna and angry with Ava for setting the whole thing in motion, Paige demands that Ava help her, alongside her brother (a frightfully laconic Christopher Ingle), sister-in-law (an “Eh… it’s a paycheck” performance from Rhea Rossiter), Cooper and one of the dumbest parapsychologists in any movie… ever, Doctor Hidalgo (played by Jason Beck); when Hidalgo learns that Paige had been in Borley Forest, he relates the story of a haunted or possessed tree that no one can never seem to locate once they’ve initially encountered it. When the frightened teens tell the (insert snickering noise here) Doctor that the entity seems to disappear once the lights are turned on, he utters what may be the most cogent words of his entire life: “A preference for darkness is not the same as a fear of light.” I guess why he has that degree hanging on the wall behind him.
THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (Marina Petrano) (publicity still)
Anyway, once the group decides to go into the woods and confront the bogey, things start to pick up story-wise; the dialogue and the actors delivering said dialogue, unfortunately, don’t pick up. Of course, the whole thing wraps up very nicely with a “surprise” ending that you can see coming from at least four movies away. Look… I’m not saying that …BORLEY FOREST is a bad flick, I’m just saying that it ain’t that good; oh, I’ve seen far worse and I suppose the youngsters will enjoy destroying a few braincells watching it, but it doesn’t even come close to meeting my threshold of tolerance for ignoramus entertainment and my threshold is set fairly low (I mean, I nearly made it through three minutes of that horrid DUKES OF HAZZARD movie once, so you know I’ve got staying power). The “unrated” designation may make it seem more appealing but, even if the frights were scarier and the script wasn’t so hackneyed, the producers probably coulda gotten away with a PG-13; that’s how mild every aspect (horror, sexual situations, alcohol consumption by minors, et cetera) of THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST truly is. A shame, really, as, on paper, the concept seems to work.
(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/TARNOL GROUP PICTURES (82 minutes; Rated R); 2015)
Taking dysfunction to an entirely new level, SEE YOU IN VALHALLA follows the Burwood family as they gather after several years apart to mourn their brother, a troubled young man who found peace living in a Viking colony. After Maxwell (played in pivotal flashbacks by Jake McDorman, whose most high profile role to date has been in AMERICAN SNIPER) – who had adopted the Viking name Magnus – and his girlfriend left the colony, she drifted back into drugs, dying of an overdose and sending the distraught young man spiraling out of control; taking justice into his own hands, Magnus attacked the drug dealer and his associates with a broadsword, effectively committing suicide by proxy.
SEE YOU IN VALHALLA (Jake McDorman) (publicity still)
The youngest Burwood, Johana, learns of her brother’s death from a television news report. As Johana (played by MODERN FAMILY’s Sarah Hyland, who is also a co-producer on the project) sits stunned, there’s a knock at her door; it’s Peter, her scheduled date. Telling Peter (Alex Frost) that she forgot about their plans, she apologizes and tells him about her brother. What Johana intended to be a casual get-together meant something far different for the smitten Peter, who immediately volunteers to accompany her back home. With Peter in tow, Johana heads for home, where she is greeted by her father, Woody (Conor O’Farrell), a man who had always been a bit distant toward his children and further distanced himself as he enveloped himself in grief after the death of his wife; with Woody is his live-in nurse (and former grocery delivery person), Faye (Emma Bell), a spirit so free that she is continually mere nanoseconds away from floating away. Already at the home is Jo’s older brother, Barry (played by Bret Harrison, who has starred in two of my favorite TV series of the past fifteen years, the deeply twisted GROUNDED FOR LIFE and the wildly underrated REAPER) and his life partner, Makewi (a more-than-a-little off-center performance from Steve Howey, who has an impressive resume, including a recurring role in SONS OF ANARCHY, but will probably forever be known for his role of Reba McEntire’s screwball son-in-law, Van on REBA).
SEE YOU IN VALHALLA (Bret Harrison, Steve Howey, Michael Weston, Sarah Hyland, Alex Frost) (publicity still)
The final piece of the Burwood family mosaic is oldest brother Don (Michael Weston), a holier-than-thou perfectionist who blames Woody for all of his (well-hidden) problems (actually, he blames his father for the extinction of the dinosaurs and every other ill that has beset this planet since the dawn of time). With the arrival of Don and his Nazi-in-training teenage daughter, Ashley (snarkily portrayed by Odeya Rush), the sniping, cheap shots and fist-throwing begins. Throughout it all, Jo manages to stay fairly well out of the line of fire… until the entire family convenes for supper, where Ashley admits her superiority over all others by announcing her plans to remain a virgin until marriage and qualifies that decision by pointing out that “at least I won’t have to get an abortion,” a subject that is a widespread rumor about Jo amongst the general populace but never discussed in the Burwood home. Johana, of course, takes umbrage to the condescending remark, which suddenly turns into a free-for-all yelling and shoving match between Woody and Don. Tragedy, quite naturally, ensues… something so startling that it brings the three quarreling siblings together and sees Pete and, especially, the zen philosophy of Makewi showing their true worth to this insane family to whom they have become, at the very least, satellites caught in their gravitational pull. The ending, a hair-brained scheme concocted by the two that brings the whole family together, is truly touching.
SEE YOU IN VALHALLA (Steve Howey, Sarah Hyland) (publicity still)
SEE YOU IN VALHALLA is a brutal look at familial in-fighting that really isn’t intended for the young’uns (the R rating is for some very coarse language more than anything else) and, though it borders on the realm of “chick flick,” there’s enough testosterone and subversive comedy (Makewi and Pete’s first encounter; Don and Barry’s argument about the latter allowing Ashley to indulge in an alcoholic beverage) to make it a great late-night date movie (several linear yards of very beautiful people certainly doesn’t hurt, either). Don’t get me wrong, it is far from perfect; there are more than enough cringe-worthy moments to fill a couple more movies but, I have come to the conclusion that great acting can overcome a marginal script and, conversely, no matter how great the script is, marginal acting will absolutely ruin it. In this case, the cast is first-rate (Howey, in particular, is a stand-out), as they manage to rise above some of the more questionable sequences to deliver an entertaining piece of family drama. Even a couple of rather convoluted plot devices involving Johana’s former boyfriend and the abortion rumor are well-acted, if not well-written. There are certainly worse ways to spend an hour-and-a-half than watching SEE YOU IN VALHALLA.
Jerry Jeff Walker and Patrick Tourville, 2011 (uncredited photo)
This is the story of two men – two visionaries – and how their lives have intersected, not only with each other but, also with those of us who can appreciate people who are unafraid to “buck the system” for a principle they believe in. Both are steadfast and unwavering in their commitment to doing the right thing and making things better.
The first, an upstate New Yorker named Ronald Crosby, became Jerry Jeff Walker in 1966, embarking on a fifty year (and counting) career of musical and personal highs and lows that can only be described as “legendary.” During his early busking days, Walker landed in a New Orleans jail cell with a down-on-his-luck drunken tap dancer known as Bojangles; Jerry Jeff turned the experience into one of the most recognized songs of the last half-century, “Mister Bojangles.” That experience and that song has colored Jerry Jeff’s career ever since. However, it was the decision to make Austin, Texas his home base that thrust Walker into the forefront of the outlaw country movement, along with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Ray Benson’s Asleep At the Wheel. Suddenly, the wayward troubadour found himself on the major label treadmill, cranking out an album (or two) a year for MCA and, later, Elektra, throughout the ’70s and early ’80s. During this time, an angel named Susan came into his life, grounding and stabilizing the wild life Walker had led for most of his adult life. As the grind of being a major label recording artist began to take its toll, Jerry Jeff, with Susan’s blessing, walked away from the insanity in 1982. In 1986, Jerry Jeff and Susan Walker formed Tried and True Music, an independent label dedicated to releasing new music from Jerry Jeff, on their own terms. Always being a man who believed in causes and, looking for a way to give back, the couple eventually founded the Tried and True Foundation, which is a reflection of their commitment to the fostering of young musicians’ talents.
Jerry Jeff Walker onstage (uncredited photo)
Those final few sentences lead us, quite naturally, to the second visionary: Filmmaker Patrick Tourville. Patrick was introduced to the music of Jerry Jeff Walker through his first MCA Records album and that record’s lead track, “Hill Country Rain.” A couple decades later, with Patrick already a well-respected commercial director, he was contacted by a large telecom conglomerate to produce a spot to sell their company to the Texas audience; as Tourville pitched his concepts to a room of suits, he found that he had a divided audience – half of the Board loved the idea, the other half weren’t completely sold. Eventually, the company’s president (an old friend of Patrick’s) suggested Patrick approach Jerry Jeff and ask him to appear in the commercial. Tourville contacted Susan (who has been Jerry Jeff’s manager for quite some time) with the proposal; when it came time to talk money, Patrick said that he knew the company had set aside a certain amount of funding to go to Walker; Susan countered with, “I think they have this to offer, so let’s meet in the middle and be finished.” From that short phone conversation, a friendship and a true kinship of hearts and minds developed. As Patrick became more involved with societal and political issues, he began seeking out projects that would truly uplift, rather than simply promote. The real Jerry Jeff Walker story is much deeper than a simple retelling of the career of a sometimes out-of-control singer/songwriter; at the heart of Jerry Jeff’s tale is a story of redemption and salvation, a story of a man wanting to do better and, above all else, a love story. These are the things that brought a well-respected filmmaker named Patrick Tourville to direct OK BUCKAROOS. The following interview was conducted via e-mail and fleshed out via several phone conversations with Patrick. But, first…
A REVIEW: OK BUCKAROOS
(PUBLIK PICTURES/TRIED AND TRUE MUSIC (121 minutes; Unrated); 2014)
OK BUCKAROOS is a straight-forward biographical sketch of one of the founding engineers of what has become known as “Outlaw Country,” Jerry Jeff Walker. Director Patrick Tourville, thankfully, doesn’t spend too much time dwelling on some of Jerry Jeff’s more widely publicized proclivities, highlighting the under-publicized family man and champion of the underdog aspects of his life that make him a much more interesting and uplifting subject... I mean, if you wanna see a musician self-explode, you can catch that any night of the week on ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT or VH1’s BEHIND THE MUSIC. Along the way, however, we do get to see some of those wild stage performances and antics that Walker was so famous for, through archival footage from his Gonzo heyday. Through interviews with Jerry Jeff and his wife of 41 years, Susan, as well as friends and fellow musicians, we get a true vision of the creative and influential mark that Walker has left on popular American music.
Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and Kris Kristofferson on the set of THE TEXAS CONNECTION, 1992 (publicity photo)
Interspersed with those manic snippets (and later, more laid back, elder statesman performances) of Jerry Jeff onstage, with friends such as Bob Livingstone and Gary P Nunn and the Lost Gonzo Band or with legends like Willie Nelson, are also intimate solo acoustic performances – reminiscences, really – from the man himself, giving new depth and insight into the song and the songwriter. Archival interviews with Walker, Guy Clark, Jimmy Buffett and Kris Kristofferson and new musings and stories from singer/songwriters influenced by Jerry Jeff like Todd Snider and Bruce Robison and from old friends likeRay Wylie Hubbard (who wrote that song about the “Redneck Mother”). The eagle-eyed will recognize David Bromberg, iconic Austin musician Joe Ely and others among the mass of humanity onstage with Jerry Jeff and, variably, the Interchangeable Dance Band or the Lost Gonzo Band from some of those early live clips.
Patrick Tourville with Ray Wylie Hubbard (publicity still)
Patrick Tourville has gone above and beyond with OK BUCKAROOS, digging deep and hitting the right nerves to bring out the story and the man behind some of the greatest American music written in the past fifty-plus years. Being a fan of Jerry Jeff Walker since my brother played RIDIN’ HIGH for me back in 1975, this film has certainly given me a new appreciation for his music and for who he has become over those passing years. OK BUCKAROOS should be required viewing for anyone interested in music or a career in music; the film offers valuable life and business lessons from a man who has looked at life from the bottom of the pile and from the top of the heap. As a cautionary tale or as a redemptive love story, the documentary works on enough levels to keep even non-fans interested. By the way, there are several bonus music-only videos (“Mister Bojangles,” “Hill Country Rain” and others), from live shows in 1982 and 2009… they’re great additions to the package. OK BUCKAROOS is available here and at all the usual locations.
Patrick Tourville (publicity photo)
THE MULE: Patrick, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about the Jerry Jeff Walker documentary, OK BUCKAROOS. Despite some moderate successes in the ’70s, Jerry Jeff Walker isn’t exactly a household name. So, how did you come to direct and co-write a documentary about the man? What initially drew you to the project?
PATRICK: I won’t guess at your age, but assume your location. If you were “of age” in the early seventies and living in Texas, Jerry Jeff was huge. So, my household included Jerry Jeff, along with my Rolling Stones and my sister’s Beatles; so, it’s one of those “you had to be there” stories. However, something “household wise” was happening or all the fat cats from LA would not have descended on the Austin scene, en masse.
I was lucky. There are two songs that are seminal in my early (transistor) radio experience: “ …Satisfaction” and “Hill Country Rain.”
THE MULE: While Jerry Jeff certainly isn’t a recluse, he is a man who doesn’t go out of his way to draw attention to himself. How was he convinced that his was a story that needed to be told? And, equally as important, how did you convince him that you were the person to tell that story?
PATRICK: Susan… PERIOD! I had done some commercial work with the Walkers years earlier. Then, I found myself with five cameras and a crane on July 4th, 2009, at Dell Diamond for a Kellie Pickler show. JJ was on that stage and I kept rolling. The rest is history… Thanks to Susan for trusting me with the family… LOL.
Patrick Tourville with Susan and Jerry Jeff Walker, 2011 (uncredited photo)
THE MULE: As you researched your subject and interviewed him, his family, his friends and bandmates, were you surprised by anything you learned or by anything you were told?
PATRICK: Yes… what a truly decent, loving and hard core family man he is. And, with his incredible wife, Susan, they beat the rock and roll odds… they are still together. Do you know how cool that is?!!!
THE MULE: He’s very much a “songwriter’s songwriter,” as exemplified by the number of great songwriters who appear in OK BUCKAROOS, extolling his virtues. After filming the documentary, what insights into, not only Jerry Jeff’s music, but his psyche, as well, did you glean from the experience? In your opinion, what do you think makes him and, really, all great troubadours tick?
PATRICK: When I interviewed Bruce Robison for the film, off camera he told me that without Susan, JJ would still be playing in a bus station for tips. I related the story to JJ and his response was, “He is right and I would have no problem with that.” Need I say more?
Jerry Jeff Walker, circa mid-1970s (photo credit: SCOTT NEWTON)
THE MULE: At any time, did you find yourself second guessing your decision to make OK BUCKAROOS? If so, why and what kept you going?
PATRICK: OMG… Yes! It was the rear end of the process that did me in… the business, the licensing, the marketing. For all filmmakers out there: Do not take refuge in the creative process… find rest in the creative process, but don’t expect that bliss to translate into commercial success.
THE MULE: Let’s delve into your history and background a bit. How did you get into the movie and documentary game?
THE MULE: OK BUCKAROOS is your first feature. What advice can you give to first time documentarians or film-makers in general?
PATRICK: Do your film with enough passion to sustain what will be huge waves of opposition to your “dream.” I think it’s called a tsunami… LOL… of questioning, doubt and otherwise negative influence on your story.
OK BUCKAROOS executive producers Beau Ross and Daniel Trube with Patrick Tourville (uncredited photo)
THE MULE: Do you prefer to work on documentaries like this or would you like to try your hand at a more traditional scripted movie? Are there any other people that you would be interested in helming a documentary about?
PATRICK:Good question. Yes and yes. Film-making came to me as an inspiration very young. I won my first national film award at age seventeen and got some money from PBS to remake it. I think everybody at that age wants to make the Great American Movie, which is, you know… America. It was worth it, though. Ultimately, I became a very successful commercial director, made a lot of money, doing what I do, from a craft standpoint but… at the same time, evolved emotionally, spiritually and politically and, the more that I looked at my successful commercial work, the more I realized it was about real stories, it was about real people as opposed to displaying shrimp on a grill or milk being poured on a peach or Tide being poured into a washing machine. So, when I decided to leave the marketing world, documentaries just felt like a natural thing to do; I just wanted to talk about stories… That’s not to say that I would not – given the right circumstances – engage in a narrative feature and all that entails but, right now, I’m very comfortable in a documentary format. I mean, a narrative? I would still be tempted to cut to archive footage.
The last part of the question is… For whatever reason, I have a rich history in music. I did a lot of music videos with those early southern California rockers… a lot of those guys are friends of mine: Jackson Browne and Little Feat and Joe Walsh. So, music just seems to keep following me around and, so, would I want to do another music documentary? Yeah… Maybe. Based on the experience with Jerry Jeff, I’d rather do some other socially important or politically important things. I am in sort of a holding pattern, developing a film on Eugene McDaniels, who was a black pop artist in the late ’60s who performed a song called “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.” He became this sort of pop icon, as a black man with a huge white female audience. Long story short, by the time the ’60s had ended, he was a full-blown radical and had written a song called “Compared To What” that Les McCann recorded; it’s a Vietnam… sort of an anti-Vietnam rant. He passed away, unexpectedly, a few years ago. Eugene is considered by many – including the Roots’ Questlove – to be the Godfather of Hip-Hop… his was a soulful spirit that went from light to dark and found his way back to the light. So, we’re working with maybe developing a film there. That embraces both things. It’s a music thing, it’s a political thing. I’m also working on a project that will take me to Senegal to explore the Hip-Hop scene there so, I guess I’m stuck with music. That’s the bottom line… I’m stuck with music.
I was a big fan of Godard – Jean-Luc Godard – who sort of pushed that envelop to its limit in terms of authorship and aesthetics and, basically, said, “you don’t need to put your name on the film, you just need to help change the world.” I’m sorta stuck in that.
Patrick Tourville, Jerry Jeff Walker and OK BUCKAROOS executive producer Marty Garvin (publicity still)
THE MULE: When can we expect to see finished product for these projects?
PATRICK:I don’t know about finished product. Eugene McDaniels is on the back burner; Senegal and its music scene is on the front burner. I’m supposed to leave for West Africa on the 22nd of this month (May) for ten days… I don’t know, man. What can I say? Here’s the answer to that: If you’re doing this stuff, you never know. You never know when you can expect finished product. You know it’s a year from now… if then. That’s the problem with making a documentary. I do believe in the written word; I do not approach anything without scripting. Obviously, with a documentary, the script gets written at the final edit, in terms of something that you would turn in as a script; but, you have to start with writers, you have to start with a structure, you have to start with three acts and, you have to define those acts and you have to determine what scenes are relevant and salient to those acts. You have to figure out classic Greek storytelling. But, as you get into it and you research it and, then, you’ve got people telling you what you should do, ’cause they heard things… it evolves. But, at the end of the day, if you wrote the written word right, you’ll be happy to see that it’s pretty close to what you originally wrote down.
It doesn’t always happen that way, but if you don’t go in with a preconceived notion, you’re in trouble… you’re in big trouble. You have to have scaffolding in place, you have to have a structure in place, you have to know… I’ll tell you what, you don’t shoot anything unless you know what the log line is; you gotta know in the elevator pitch what this is about. So, as you’re discovering and you’re getting influenced and you have people telling you, “What about this? What about that?,” you’ve got that structure to fall back on. You’ve got to have that. That’s my most important recommendation to any… ANY filmmaker. You know, cinema verite, I get it… you’re gonna follow someone around for three years or four years… that’s cool but, if you’re trying to do a narrative piece, via the documentary platform, don’t think that you don’t have to have something written down before you turn on the cameras.
THE MULE: Thanks for spending a little bit of time with the Mule. And, thanks for telling Jerry Jeff Walker’s story.
(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/MAIN STREET FILMS/RAPIDFIRE ENTERTAINMENT (93 minutes; Rated R); 2015)
When I was solicited to review this Australian import, loosely based on a series of executions (or, murders, depending on your sense of justice), I wasn’t sure what to expect. To be perfectly honest, I envisioned something akin to one of those horrible, schlocky Steven Seagal flicks. Boy… was I wrong! Steven Seagal would choke on his own tongue and break every bone in his body if he were to attempt a nuanced performance like that given by Jamie Bamber as JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE.
JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Jamie Bamber) (publicity still)
Here’s the story: A man identified only as John Doe (a chilling, steely-eyed performance from Bamber), an accused serial killer of 33 – all reprehensible people who needed killing (pedophiles, abusive partners, gang members, crooked police, unscrupulous businessmen, et cetera… you get the idea) – is standing trial for his crimes. The scene shifts to the courthouse steps, where protestors (for and against Doe’s actions) and a rabid media are on hand as the prosecuting attorney steps to the microphone to announce the verdict; just as he is about to utter the vigilante’s fate, a huge explosion tears through the crowd. From there, the film takes on a sort of cinema verite feel, with scenes of John Doe’s brutality (as well as the injustices that led to that brutality) interspersed with a series of worldwide news reports, incidents of other like-minded citizens, a movement they call “Speak For the Dead,” taking up the cause (and their baseball bats) and – most intriguing – a prison interview with the man called John Doe, conducted by a reporter named Ken Rutherford (a brilliantly understated turn by Lachy Hulme). One reporter, closely linked to Doe, tells the camera, “He was killing career criminals. Nobody cared until the body count started rising.”
JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Lachy Hulme) (publicity still)
Apart from the chaos at the courthouse and a few very violent scenes of retribution, there really isn’t a lot of action going on; JOHN DOE… is what you would call a psychological thriller. If you’re thinking that means this flick is boring, I guarantee you… it is anything but; even with everything basically laid out in front of us since that first scene, there are more than a few “gotcha” moments that will stun you and leave you wondering how you could have missed some rather obvious (in retrospect) clues; even the ending will leave you guessing. By exploring the killer’s psyche, we are forced to confront the societal and personal demons that we too often ignore or accept without question. In the end, we learn that, like the system of justice we live under, we are all somehow tainted and a little corrupt. JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE will have you thinking and, maybe, looking over your shoulder… just in case.
JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Jamie Bamber, Isabella Woodlock) (publicity still)
I’m not really sure how to characterize this film; I mean, it probably wouldn’t make a great date movie and, with the R rating and all of the scenes of violence and brutality, it really isn’t made for family viewing, either. When and with whom you decide to watch, just know that you are in for an emotional roller coaster of a ride; it is, hands down, one of the most riveting, purely psychological explorations since 1990’s MISTER FROST.
(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT (747 minutes; Unrated); 2015)
I’ve never been a big fan of musicals… ain’t gonna apologize for it… it’s just the way things have always worked in my brain-pan. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about them. For instance, when the name Sondheim is evoked, I know that he is one of the most celebrated composers of our lifetime, responsible for some of the most well-known musicals (and individual numbers) ever.
Stephen Sondheim, 2010 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS/HENNY RAY ABRAMS)
Just take a look at the offerings on this massive six disc celebration of the life and influential music of the legendary Stephen Sondheim: INTO THE WOODS (way before Disney got their hands on it, this AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE version is from 1991 and stars most of the original Broadway cast, including Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason… so, bonus points for NO Johnny Depp!); SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (another AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE production – from 1986 – and starring Mandy Patinkin and, once again, the sublime Bernadette Peters); COMPANY (an all-star cast headed by Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone and Jon Cryer, performing on stage with the New York Philharmonic in 2011); SWEENEY TOOD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET IN CONCERT (recorded in 2001, with George Hearn, LuPone and Harris in the leads and, again, thankfully, Depp free!). Also included are 2010’s SONDHEIM: THE BIRTHDAY CONCERT, celebrating the lyricist’s 80th birthday, with appearances by just about everyone listed above, David Hyde Pierce (Master of Ceremony) and Sondheim’s long-time collaborator, Paul Gemignani conducting the New York Philharmonic and FOLLIES IN CONCERT, a 1985 film documenting the one night revival of 1971’s FOLLIES, from the first rehearsals to the final curtain call and featuring such luminaries as Lee Remick, Carol Burnett, Hearn, Patinkin and more.
So, while there is nothing new here (aside from the packaging and some much-needed re-mastering), it is a chance to get a whole lot of Stephen Sondheim’s best work in one place for a decent price ($129). Plus, with the Disney version of INTO THE WOODS sending most of the female tween population into a frenzy, this is a nice way to introduce them to a more grounded version of that show and, maybe, get them interested in real theater. You can pre-order the box set at all of the usual online places or hunt it down when it’s released on April 14, 2015.
(Digital and DVD; IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/URBAN MOVIE CHANNEL/ROBSTAR ENTERTAINMENT (101 minutes; Unrated); 2015)
I am a sucker (pun added with bad intentions) for a good vampire flick; truth be told, I’m occasionally a sucker for a bad vampire movie. Sometimes, I’m just a sucker. While TEETH AND BLOOD arrived at my door with all kinds of promise, I gotta tell you that if it weren’t for the virtual door-to-door pulchritudinous “star power,” I probably wouldn’t have made my way through this one. Even though it is beautifully peopled, the script obviously didn’t specify that the pretty faces must also be at least fair actors. Unfortunately, the whole thing comes off as something very much like Tyler Perry’s Dracula.
TEETH AND BLOOD (Glenn Plummer) (publicity still)
The premise: Detective Mike Hung (who is more of a Sam and Dean Winchester/SUPERNATURAL monster hunter type than cop) manages to get himself assigned to a murder case at a film studio in Los Angeles. Detective Hung is teamed with Detective Sasha Colfax and the two, with cover stories in tow, head off to the studio in search of jobs… and answers to a murder and a missing corpse, of course… I mean, they are police officers. The head-turning beauty of Detective Colfax sees her becoming the new female lead (the previous star being the victim of the crime in question) in director Vincent Augustine’s latest movie, Chapel Blood. There’s no hope for Hung, as his acting chops are no way near those of Colfax, so he seeks employ as a grip (kinda like a wrench-monkey that works in the camera department). Augustine’s vision has a vampire priest (Greg Eagles, whose appearance is an obvious homage to William Marshall’s BLACULA) delivering the unholy word from the pulpit and baptizing his disciples in blood. So taken is Augustine with Colfax that he attempts a little sump’n-sump’n but, she is having neither the hanky nor the panky; having been thus rebuffed, what’s a vampire lord supposed to do… shrug his shoulder and say, “That’s alright. I understand your trepidation.”? Uh… no! He casts that thousand mile stare her way, drops his voice about 103 octaves and… enthralls her. That’s gonna come back later in the flick and bite somebody in the… neck.
TEETH AND BLOOD (Michelle van der Water, Sean Christopher) (publicity still)
In a plot hole you could maneuver an aircraft carrier through, apparently everyone on-set except the two detectives knows that the movie is made by vampires, for vampires. So, with bodies continuing to drop, what’s a good undercover police officer to do? Why, naturally, you tell the vampire boss that you’re an undercover cop. Caramba! The underlying thematic push of TEETH AND BLOOD is a vampiric gang war, revolving around a depleted blood supply (it seems that most vamps have assimilated and rather than draining a vein, they get their fix from the local blood bank), a crooked mayor (there’s always a crooked mayor!) and a deal between said mayor and Vincent Augustine to provide the city with a new synthetic blood supply. The catch is, while Augustine’s coven (I thought that was witches, but… oh, well) is tapped into the real deal, all other warring factions will be feeding on the synthetic cocktail, which inhibits the undead’s powers of regeneration. In other words, they get old and turn to dust and blow away, leaving Augustine as the supreme leader of the vampire population. This, of course, leads to double-crosses and deceit aplenty. And, a feeding frenzy that makes the zombie apocalypse sound like a trip to the beach. And, a “shock” ending that was telegraphed virtually from the beginning. And… probably a sequel.
TEETH AND BLOOD (Danielle Vega) (publicity still)
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned any of the main cast. I’m going to rectify that now. Vincent Augustine is played by Glenn Plummer, who also had a hand in the script. While he does flash signs of his talent (I mean, the man CAN act), Glenn, unfortunately, comes off as rather wooden and disinterested throughout most of the film. His two “action” sequences, fight scenes between Augustine and another vampire (of which, more later) and, later, Detective Hung are poorly timed and badly staged. To be fair, though, I’m not really sure that we can lay the entire blame on Plummer for any of this; as I mentioned, he is a fine actor and, he may have just been reacting to the script and the others around him (but, then, maybe I am giving him too much credit… after all, he does have a writing credit by his name). The totally delectable Michelle van der Water, as Detective Sasha Colfax, is woefully out of place and unrelentingly unbelievable (as a cop, as a cop pretending to be an actress and – unfortunately – as an actress). Like Plummer, I’m willing to give van der Water the benefit of the doubt here, considering what she had to work with; most of her scenes involve reaction shots to what’s happening around her. She does have a few action sequences and, like those with Glenn Plummer, they come off forced and hackneyed. Detective Colfax is enthralled by Augustine, which presents a whole other set of problems for van der Water to muddle through – she just isn’t at all convincing as a hypnotized minion of darkness. The equally delectable Danielle Vega fairs slightly better in the role of Lori Franklin, the bespectacled and “timid production assistant” to Augustine. Vega’s understated performance is actually one of the few highlights of the whole flick; at least, until… Lori shows her true colors, as the cat-suited leader of a rival vampire family. Franklin’s transformation leads to a really horribly choreographed fight scene with Colfax (suddenly imbued with enhanced abilities after being enthralled), which totally leaves me cold. From the point that the timid Lori Franklin reveals her true intentions, the character becomes just another stereotype… and not even a very good one, at that.
TEETH AND BLOOD (Steffinnie Phrommany, Lyndsey Hogan) (publicity still)
Speaking of stereotypes, remember Augustine’s battle with that other vampire I mentioned earlier? That vamp, named Tyrese, is a gigantic Huggy Bear-like ghetto pimp – decked out in a very loud purple zoot suit – who has a rough time keeping his fangs out of the extras. The character is played to the 1970s exploitation hilt by comedian King Kedar and, aside from some rather dubious fight scenes and even more questionable special effects, is a bright oasis in an otherwise bleak landscape; Kedar’s vampire-out-of-time character is definitely approached with a comedic verve, but – make no mistake about it – he is also one of the more frightening aspects of a movie that lacks any sense of dread or foreboding. As the second male lead, Detective Mike Hung, Sean Christopher (he has alternately been credited as Sean Hutchinson – Christopher is his middle name – but may be more familiar as Chef Sean, a poet and hip-hop performer; Sean and his riff-heavy band, Blaze, are responsible for the flick’s title tune, a video of which you can view below), certainly seems to have some chops as an actor. Again, the main drawback to his performance comes from a script that is all over the place; added to that, the detective’s back-story is a muddled mess (that can be said of Detective Colfax and just about every character of note in TEETH AND BLOOD)… you really just can’t have any type of affinity for a guy that you know next to nothing about. I understand that the movie was made on the cheap (about 300 grand) but, truthfully, I would have preferred that less money was used on special effects (that were, ultimately, unappealing anyway) and more time and effort had been devoted to a workable script that offers better character development and a centralized plot that doesn’t send those characters off in a half dozen wildly different directions. Sometimes, these things work out and the finished product is, at least, marginally enjoyable to watch; more often than not, the final release ends up very much like TEETH AND BLOOD. If you feel you absolutely must watch this movie (or, if you belong to the local chapter of the Bad Cinema Appreciation Society), take note that it is fairly violent with some sexual overtones… you may wanna watch it after the kids have gone to bed.
(Digital and DVD; IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/CINE COUP MEDIA/VORTEX WORDS AND PICTURES (79 minutes; Unrated); 2015)
I ain’t gonna lie… When I first heard about the release of WOLFCOP, I knew the thing was gonna be stupid, possibly even too stupid for me. But, then, I saw the trailer and, as soon as the werewolf cop was identified as Deputy Lou Garou (for those among you who are mythologically deprived regarding such beasts, Google the term “loup garou”), I realized that I was right and knew that I had to watch it. WOLFCOP is gloriously idiotic and I love it!
WOLFCOP (Amy Matysio; Sarah Lind) (publicity stills)
Deputy Garou (the magnificently deadpan Leo Fafard), perpetually inebriated and hungover, seemingly doubles as Woodhaven’s town drunk; to say that Lou is a loutish loser, a laughing stock and a poor excuse for an officer of the law would be an understatement. Conversely, Lou’s law-enforcement counterpart, Tina (the deceptively hot Amy Matysio), is all business (and recipient of the department’s “Employee of the Month” award for something like two years running). On this fine day, Garou shows up more than two hours late for his shift and in a barely upright position just as Tina takes a call from Lou’s one and only friend, Willie (a real lugnut, played to the hyper-kinetic hilt by Jonathan Cherry); Willie is certain that he has solved the mysterious disappearances of the pet population of Woodhaven (a malady that has befuddled the locals for quite some time): Satan worshiping teenagers, all hopped up on booze and drugs. When Garou isn’t on duty… heck, even when he is on duty, he frequents the local watering hole, the Tooth and Nail, owned by the voluptuous Jessica (voluptuously portrayed by Sarah Lind). Lou investigates Willie’s disturbance call from a bar stool at Jessica’s place, eventually returning to the Sheriff’s office to sober up before the end of his shift. As the deputy’s shift ends, the Sheriff (a no-nonsense character played by Aiden Devine and who is called “Chief” here – must be a Canadian thing… the deputies are called “officers”) takes another disturbance call; Tina, whose shift is just beginning, volunteers to check it out, but the Chief, tiring of Lou’s antics, is intent on making the bleary-eyed slob investigate. Lou awakens the next morning, after what seems to be a particularly wicked nightmare sees him captured and tortured by a Satanic cult. It was, he soon discovers, no dream, as the pain he is experiencing and the blood on his clothes soon reveal a pentagram carved into his chest. He soon realizes that there is definitely something weird going on… as he shaves, his beard regrows almost immediately; he has super-sensitive hearing and he can smell things in the air that he never could before.
WOLFCOP (Leo Fafard) (publicity still)
The entire Sheriff’s Department is called in to investigate the gruesome death of the opponent of Woodhaven’s mayor in the upcoming election. The scene elicits shards of memories of the previous night in Garou’s fevered mind; everything seems so familiar to him. The brutal attack is quickly chalked up to another killing by the “Woodhaven Beast,” prompting the mayor and the city fathers to cancel the “Woodhaven Beast Drink and Shoot,” an annual soiree of booze and bullets. With all of this swirling around in his head, Deputy Lou Garou does something he has never done before: He takes notes and digs into the archives of the city’s newspaper and police files, searching for clues to solve this mysterious death (and, maybe, find some answers about his father’s death decades earlier) – all, of course, with drink in hand. Still unsure of what has happened to him, Lou takes Jessica up on an after-hour rendezvous at the Tooth and Nail that, as these things often do, goes terribly wrong… beginning with one of the most gruesome man-into-wolf turning scenes I’ve ever seen.
WOLFCOP (Jonathan Cherry; Leo Fafard) (publicity stills)
And then, things start to get weird. Apparently, the cult isn’t so much of the Satanic variety as they’re really a bunch of two-hundred-plus years old shape-shifters who’ve been running the city of Woodhaven and thinning the herd to keep their secret safe. Every once in awhile (say… every 32 years, coinciding with a solar eclipse, which, by the way, is fast approaching), these shape-shifting seniors must enact a bizarre ritual that involves sacrificing a werewolf, freeze-drying the mutt-man’s blood and snorting it. Huh! And here I am, thinking that moisturizer is the ultimate answer. Willie, being in close proximity to the murder and subsequent attack and turning of Lou, confronts the deputy, offering proof of his affliction and vowing to help him through the full moon; Willie locks Lou in a jail cell, sets up a camera to film his change and, to calm him down after he wolfs out, plies him with booze and doughnuts (from the aptly named convenience store, Liquor Donuts), along with a very competitive game of Go Fish. Alone in the department headquarters, Werewolf Lou takes a 911 “robbery in progress” call; having dispatched the criminals and with Willie along for the ride, Lou, exhibiting his heightened strength, tears the driver’s side door off of his car. So, what’s a diligent member of the constabulary to do? Why, modify the cruiser into a weird Green Hornet kinda avenging angel type of thing, of course.
WOLFCOP (Leo Fafard) (publicity still)
While cruising the back roads in the modified patrol car, Garou literally follows his nose to the hide-out (and meth lab) of the local gang. Mayhem ensues in one of the wildest fight sequences ever shot in a movie about a werewolf cop. After a bit of random dismemberment (and an epic explosion… I did tell you about the meth lab, right?), Lou and Willie return to headquarters, where they’re met by little red riding hooded Jessica. After a disturbingly bizarre sexual interlude (complete with cheesy faux disco ballad), Jessica’s true nature is revealed, as she changes into the mayor (Corinne Conley) before the knock-out drug she slipped Lou takes effect. Things begin to happen – and changes take place – rather quickly from that point. Lou wakes up chained to the tree of the Reckoning, with less than an hour before the eclipse. He looks at the mayor, disgust in his eyes and in his voice: “I can’t believe I slept with a 200 year old woman!” “Who said I’m a woman?” The cavalry arrives in the form of Tina, who watched surveillance video of the cell area where Lou had sequestered himself the night before. Shots are fired, people are wounded and killed; Lou wolfs out as the eclipse begins, people (lizard-like changelings, actually) are severely damaged. Of course, the good guys (good dog?) win and, as they walk off into the sunset (the eclipse only lastsabout eight minutes), Lou says, “I can use a drink.” Tina, wounded in the exchange, replies, “I could use a hospital.” “Okay. Two stops.” Stick around for an after credits scene that ties in a seemingly random sequence from very early in the proceedings. It’s funny and brings everything back around to the front… so to speak.
So, does WOLFCOP deserve your hard-earned shekels? Oh, yeah! Sure, the plot‘s dumb but, it never strays and, in the end, delivers a pretty good story. The fact that the movie never takes itself too seriously is a definite plus. There are some nice twists and turns and surprises and, while wolf Lou isn’t as scary as others we’ve seen on film, the make-up and special effects (especially the turning sequences) are way-above average for a small-budget production. The whole thing is well-produced, the music is effective and the fight sequences aren’t horrible… those are things that you can’t always say about a big-budget monster. As you can tell from the stuff I told you about some of the scenes, this movie isn’t intended for kids younger than, say, fifteen; anyone else into the werewolf, horror, crime or comedy genres should get a real kick out of it. And, be warned… WOLFCOP II is on the way! Why not? They’ve already got a cool theme song!
(Digital and DVD; IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/DREAD CENTRAL MEDIA/RUTHLESS PICTURES (100 minutes; Unrated); 2015)
ZOMBIEWORLD is quite the mixed bag. If you like your zombies (and their victims, potential victims and survivors) on the creepy, scary, gritty side of the ook factor scale, you may wanna give this one a pass; if, however, a little bit (well… actually, a whole lot) of mindless zombie shenanigans (that’s a joke, son… I say, I say… a joke!) is more to your liking, then this may very well be the odd little patchwork quilt of a zombie apocalypse for you. The thing gathers several short films from around the world, loosely held together by quintessential news anchor Marvin Gloatt (over-played to the hilt by the brilliant Bill Oberst, Junior), who is first heard beating back several members of the reanimated news staff before taking his seat before the camera and announcing that he had been bitten by one of them; the professional that he is, the anchorman vows to stay on the air until the end…. hilarity definitely does ensue! Interspersed with Gloatt’s spots and the shorts are several public service announcements informing us how to recognize, fight, kill and survive a confrontation with a zombie. These PSAs are so over-the-top funny that one of the monsters would be dining on your grey matter before you could catch your breath from laughing so hard.
The flick starts off with a confounding opening sequence called DARK TIMES. Apparently, a nuclear reactor has brought on the zombie apocalypse in a Tallahassee swamp and, gosh darn it… wouldn’t you know, it hits right in the middle of the plant’s Christmas party. Everything is shown from the point of view of – just a guess here – the slowest guy in the group; this guy witnesses everything from the zombies’ table manners to the military might of the Florida State Militia to Santa’s claws as they eviscerate the poor sap. And, of course, the aliens. Oh, yeah! That’s right… I said “aliens.” The whole thing is dark and moody and chaotic and, hey… who doesn’t like a zombified Kris Kringle, huh? As we head back to the news desk, we get a little history report on the origins of zombies. According to ol’ Marvin, it would seem that the first infection happened some 2,000 years ago, when some guy named Lazarus was raised from the dead. In a totally outrageous and sacrilegious gore-fest from Spain (that means you’re gonna be reading this one, English pig-dog!) called FIST OF JESUS, our Lord and Savior miscalculates the spiritual mojo when he brings Lazarus back from the dead, creating the first zombie. Lazarus very quickly makes an entire army of zombies… uh… make that three entire armies: Lazarus’ people, the Israelites; the Roman centurions; and, of course, the cowboys. As Jesus (portrayed by a stoic Marc Velasco) and Judas (yup… that Judas!) haul butt out of town, they are confronted by the armies of undead corpses. Realizing that they’re trapped and will have to make a stand, Jesus asks Judas (played by a less-than-stoic Noe Blancafort) if he has any weapons; Judas says that all he has is one fish and hands it over to Jesus… So, you know where this one is going, right? As Jesus multiplies the fish, he begins to hurl them at the oncoming hoard, beheading them, dismembering them and wreaking a general havoc; Judas joins in with a giant swordfish from Heaven only knows where (and you know that’s the truth!), leaving an hilarious trail of blood and body parts in his wake. The premise, the action and the make-up and special effects are so over-the-top that you’ve just got to give a tip of the hat to directors David Munoz and Adrian Cardona for creating such a blasphemously funny film.
ZOMBIEWORLD (Marc Velasco in FIST OF JESUS) (publicity still)
The most straight-forward and, ultimately, most effective piece is HOME, a tale of seclusion and an inate will to survive. A young woman (Jamie McDowell) struggles against her loneliness and an ever-growing amount of walking dead. Her mental lynchpin is a photo depicting her in happier times, with a young man who turns out to be her fiance. The final scene is, possibly, one of the greatest and most visceral visuals ever seen in a zombie movie. A couple of the shorter pieces, DEAD RUSH and TELEPORTAL, come off as first-person shooter video games (one figurative, but with an ax, the other quite literal); both are kinda goofy, but TELEPORTAL comes off looking better and, thus, is more authentic. One of the weirdest shorts is CERTIFIED, a strange period piece featuring a brilliantly subversive switch ending. The rural mail route setting and, later, learning that the mailman is not only new on the route, but new to the area leads to certain conclusions – especially after hearing the story of family tragedy laid out by a young girl (played with a twinkle in her eyes by Rebecca Spicher) and taking in a series of bizarre coincidences. Aside from HOME, this is probably the best work of this collection, regardless of the shocking ending. The final piece is BRUTAL RELAX, which comes from the same warped minds that produced FIST OF JESUS so, again, you’ve got some reading to do. The basic premise is the same, without the God complex: A high-strung man is told to find a way to relax, eventually ending up on a secluded (and amazingly crowded) beach, flopping in a therapeutic mud hole and cranking up his iPod. As the guy drifts off into a blissful oblivion, the beach is overrun by ugly green water zombies; as the putrid corpses gorge on the other sun worshippers, the guy’s batteries run down, killing his iPod and his happiness groove. What follows, naturally, is an overwhelmingly crazy set-to between the guy and the hapless water zombies. BRUTAL RELAX is fun, but it really just comes off as a manic Benny Hill skit… a bad Benny Hill skit. Which is okay by me.
ZOMBIEWORLD (Rebecca Spicher in CERTIFIED) (publicity still)
There are a couple of very forgettable pieces that either try too hard for that sense of stark hyper-realism that worked so well with HOME, or for the lunatic slapstick style that may work with FIST OF JESUS and BRUTAL RELAX or with Oberst’s slowly marinating Marvin Gloatt, but they fall just short of the mark for me. The bottom line is this: ZOMBIEWORLD is a fun way to kill a couple of hours and a few brain cells; unfortunately, the cartoon violence, Noah-like floods of blood (and an equally gross amount of dismembered and disemboweled bodies and corresponding parts) and less-than-gentile language makes it verboten for kids under, say, twelve or thirteen years old. Some may also be offended by the rewrite of the Gospels, turning Jesus into a zombie-killing machine. But, if your goat isn’t easily got by that sorta thing, I say, “Go for it!”
This flick follows, fairly accurately, the accepted Hollywood take on Frankenstein: A doctor, after years of research (and an overwhelming God complex), has discovered the secret to reviving dead tissue and, intent on creating life from death, hires an unscrupulous, borderline psychotic to procure human remains from the medical school’s freezers for his experiments. As the creature nears completion, all that is needed to conduct the experiment is a relatively fresh brain; the “procurement specialist” finds one so fresh that the homeless man it belongs to is still alive, so… he kills him, delivering the organ to the doctor, demanding more money to buy his silence. Of course, the two argue, the brain is damaged beyond use during a struggle which sees the doctor forced to take fatal defensive action against his associate. Suddenly, the problem of the useless specimen has been solved; the recently deceased felon will supply the final piece to the doctor’s cruel attempt at reincarnation. Oh, yeah… there’s also an ancient mummy in this version.
FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Ashton Leigh) (publicity still)
This flick follows, fairly accurately, the accepted Universal Monsters take on the Mummy: An archeology professor has unearthed the tomb of a long-forgotten pharaoh of a minor Egyptian dynasty, a cruel ruler whose soul, as the result of a curse, is trapped forever in his body, after having his senses physically removed… first his tongue was cut out, then his ears were cut off, then his nose; they let him keep his eyes long enough to force him to watch them whack his tally (which, I suppose, is where the term “tallywhacker” comes from). The archeologist and his scientific dig-buddies return to the school’s Ancient Studies building, mutilated, mummified (but, then, weren’t they all) king in tow, to better study what is a prime specimen of the ancient art. Of course, the department head is enthralled by the spirit after finding and removing the cursed talisman from the well-preserved corpse, leading to several wickedly violent murders by, not only the mummy, but also the professor. Naturally, one of the professor’s assistants is a beautiful young Egyptologist who just happens to be the spitting image of the priestess responsible for cursing the senseless pharaoh. Oh, yeah… there’s also a chain-smoking, smack-talking modern day reanimated creature in this version.
FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Brandon DeSpain) (publicity still)
Okay… I couldn’t resist the two-pronged introduction and, while it may seem that I am not a fan of FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY, it does retain enough of the classic horror movie feel to make it worthwhile… even enjoyable… despite the flaws (most of which will be discussed throughout the course of this review). The two plots weave in and out of each other, leading to the all-too short climactic duel, as the two main antagonists are not only on staff at the college, but are also lovers, reconnecting upon the return of Egyptology professor Naihla Kahlil (portrayed by a magnificent specimen in her own right, Ashton Leigh). The slightly unhinged (at least, in the beginning of the story) anatomy professor is only identified once, as he writes his name on the chalk board as, simply, Professor F. Naturally, Naihla calls him by his Christian name, Victor (played by an equally magnificent specimen, Max Rhyser). As Professor F’s “assistant,” Carter (played to the oily hilt by John Pickett), begins to exhibit more of the homicidal traits that made him perfect for the job, Professor Walton (a VERY creepy performance from Boomer Tibbs… a guy who was obviously built to be in horror movies) is well on his way to becoming the pharaoh’s conduit for collecting human sacrifices and, in general, its all-around toady. With the body count in the Ancient Studies building steadily rising, Carter meets his demise at the hands of Professor F, who certainly knows a good thing when he sees it (or maybe not, since he blew off a date with the delectable Professor Kahlil to work on his pet project), confiscating the felon’s brain to complete his set of human remains and placing it in the cranium of the lifeless creature he has constructed.
FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Constantin Tripes) (publicity still)
Unfortunately, for Victor, Naihla follows him to his sewer sanctuary, where his experiments have all taken place and where the VERY upset Carter discovers what he has become. So, distraught and confused, Naihla decides to clear her mind with a visit to the mummy, Userkara (a combination of digital trickery and an amazing make-up job on actor Brandon DeSpain, courtesy of writer/director/special effects make-up artist Damien Leone). Walton, having fed the pharaoh’s need for blood, is caught off guard by her sudden appearance and, more so by Userkara’s fascination with the beautiful Egyptologist… it seems that he believes her to be the sorceress who cursed him to an eternity stuck in his current form. As things go from bad to worse – in the sewer and in the examination room – Carter, in the body of the creature (Constantin Tripes in a make-up that leaves something to be desired), has beaten Professor F and chained him to some pipes (the very pipes the professor had only recently chained the Carter creature to) and is off to exact his revenge by raping and pillaging Professor Kahlil; while this is happening, Naihla has convinced the pharaoh that she will remove his curse if he kills Walton (before Walton can kill her), leading to that gentleman’s gruesome demise.
RANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Max Rhyser and Constantin Tripes) (publicity still)
Naihla heads for the sewer in search of her beloved (if just a tad maniacal) Victor, Userkara in lumbering pursuit, at about the same time that Professor F’s creature is making his way out of the sewer; naturally, the two monsters meet for an impromptu throw-down. From there, things happen rather quickly, leading to a not unexpected ending (at least, not unexpected if you’re familiar with the nearly 85 year history of the Universal movie monsters). Overall, I gotta say that I found FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY as much fun as any monster movie I’ve seen in a while but, as mentioned, it is not without its flaws. I’m sure that you’ll pick up on most of them yourself but, there is one that I just have to rant about: Victor’s creation appears unfortunately cartoonish. The facial make-up makes it look like a comedic approximation of the face paint – a skeletal white – worn by ex-Misfit Michale Graves during his tenure in that band and, it looks even worse against the buff and tanned body that makes up the rest of the monster; if the white make-up had been present from head to toe, the effect would have been much better. It may not seem like a big thing, but it was all I could focus on in virtually every scene the creature appeared in. The movie is quite brutal and bloody in parts and, though unrated, should probably be considered at least an “R.” Parents should take that into consideration before buying it or renting it for anyone younger than 17.
When this movie was originally announced, there were grumblings and, in the case of Experience Hendrix (the company formed by some members of the Hendrix family to oversee everything Jimi), outright venom spewed at director/writer John Ridley, actor Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000 of the hip-hop/pop/rock duo, Outkast) and others associated with the project. The Experience Hendrix people demanded complete participation and final approval on every aspect of the movie, including who would play Jimi; they were adamant that Benjamin be replaced. When their demands were rebuked, they pulled all licensing of Hendrix’ music for use in the film. Feathers were also ruffled by the portrayal of certain of the man’s character traits and, no doubt, the characterization of his father, Al. I could never really understand the family’s dislike of Mister Benjamin but, I have read some rather ludicrous comments from others on the subject: Andre, according to one person, was several shades too dark to accurately portray the lighter skinned Hendrix (that one just absolutely boggles the mind); another cited Benjamin’s age (somewhere around 37 when filming began), stating that he was too old to play a 23 year old Hendrix (uh… that’s just ridiculous… let’s examine, shall we? The four high school kids from WELCOME BACK, KOTTER were all in their twenties when the series began – John Travolta was the youngest, at 21; Ron Pallilo was 26 and only four years younger than his “teacher,” Gabe Kaplan. That’s just one example… this kinda stuff happens regularly in movies and television), but if 60 is the new 40, then 40 is the new 27 and, suddenly, 37 isn’t so far removed from 23. Another… I’m gonna call it an “observation” that I’ve read (and heard from friends) is the fact that Andre is a “hip-hop” guy and, well, he couldn’t know anything about Jimi Hendrix (ay, caramba! I give up!). Of course, the major complaint is the fact that the film-makers could not use any of Jimi’s music. So, how does the movie stack up against all of that hate? Very well, thank you.
JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE ( Andre Benjamin and Imogen Poots) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)
Before getting into the meat and taters (so to speak) of the film, I would like to address several of the issues listed above. Let’s start with the biggie: Jimi’s music. The ban was limited to actual recordings of Hendrix and to songs that he wrote. The former really had no bearing on the production, as the music was performed by a crack group of session men (guitarist Waddy Wachtel, bassist Leland Sklar and drummer Kenny Aranoff), with vocals by Benjamin; the latter would have been devastating had the movie focused on Jimi’s legendary career past June 1967, because during the time span featured (June 1966 through June 1967), Hendrix had only released one album (ARE YOU EXPERIENCED in May ’67) and three singles (sure, two of those were “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary,” but those also came out in May ’67). So, the music focuses on the time that Hendrix played rhythm and blues standards with Curtis Knight and such classic blues numbers as “Killing Floor” and “Manish Boy.” As far as I’m concerned, that works fine for me and plays into the narrative of Hendrix’ rise to stardom in England during that twelve-month period. The Hendrix family, no doubt, wanted to avoid much of the foibles and the darker side of, not only Jimi, but his father, as well; I gotta admit that I was shocked by a couple of violent outbursts in the film but, who among us can say they are foible-free and don’t possess a darker side to some extent? Now, as far as Andre Benjamin’s skin-tone, if he were a white guy in black make-up, I would see that as a definite problem; since, however, the performance and the voice and the mannerisms are the important thing here, I’m good, as Andre was spot on, based on just about every film clip I’ve ever seen or every audio clip that I’ve ever heard of Jimi Hendrix… except the hands… for some reason, the way he holds and plays the guitar and the way he uses his hands throughout just doesn’t match up with what Hendrix did. You saw my feelings regarding the age discrepancy, so we’ll move on from there to Andre 3000 being a hip-hop guy and not knowing anything about Hendrix. Really? I’m a pasty white guy from the middle of nowhere who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s as a pasty white kid from the middle of nowhere, but I know and love a wide variety of music and artists from the ’50s and earlier. And, hey, just to make that particular section of the populace even crankier, I listen to hip-hop, too.
JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Andre Benjamin) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)
If I have one complaint about JIMI… it’s that it tends to jump around a bit much, leaving a lot of the context of what’s happening up to the viewer (a noble tactic for a horror movie… not here). There are also several stop frames, where a character is identified (Keith Richard, Chas Chandler, Noel Redding) before moving into whatever scene is up next. The whole thing rather reminds me of an old John’s Children song called “Jagged Time Lapse,” which the songwriter, when asked what the title meant, replied, “It’s about jagged lapses of time, innit?” The movie starts at the end, on June 4, 1967, as the Jimi Hendrix Experience are about to take the stage at the Saville Theatre in London (of which, more later). We are quickly transported in time back one year, to the Cheetah Club in New York, where Jimi is playing with Curtis Knight. One of the audience members is the very bored, very spoiled girlfriend of Keith Richard, Linda Keith (played by the beautiful and unfortunately named Imogen Poots), who is immediately taken with the man hiding in the back corner of the stage, just waiting for his solo to come around. Flash forward to Linda turning Jimi on to acid and, later, trying to make him see just how gifted a musician he really is. When he tells her that he can’t leave Knight’s band because the guitar he’s using belongs to his employer, she buys him the white Gibson that would become somewhat of a trademark during those early days. As Linda becomes more involved with Hendrix, she begins to contact the movers and shakers within her circle (the Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, co-founders of the newly formed Sire Records, Seymour Stein and Richard Gottehrer), actively seeking a management and recording deal for him. In a particularly humorous (and somewhat ironic) scene, the Stones’ guitar player, in a petulant pique of jealousy, visits Linda’s father to have him intervene in the situation with Jimi; Keith tells Mister Keith, “And he’s a drug addict. Did you know that? He has her strung out all the time.”
JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Haylet Atwell and Andre Benjamin) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)
A chance meeting with Animals bassist Bryan “Chas” Chandler, at the end of an American tour (and the end of the original Animals line-up), finally garners Linda the guidance for Jimi’s career that she has been seeking: Chandler (played by a virtual doppleganger, Andrew Buckley) is retiring from playing and moving into management. The scene where Chas first hears Hendrix is an absolute priceless moment in the film, with Chandler’s eyes wide and jaw dropped as he’s mesmerized by the guitarist’s ability (if not his stage presence). Linda sets up a meeting between the two rockers and, literally, history is made as Chandler convinces Jimi to head for the much greener pastures of England, with promises of a much more diverse and open-minded approach to the burgeoning music scene there. Jimi arrives in London on September 24, 1966 but, still waiting for his work visa to be approved, his playing time is limited to a couple of minutes onstage. As Chas, Linda and Jimi make the rounds at all of the local clubs, Jimi is noticed by Kathy Etchingham (played by Marvel’s AGENT CARTER, Hayley Atwell, who, it should be noted, doesn’t look anything like Chas Chandler); likewise, Kathy is noticed by Linda, who becomes violently jealous when she catches the pair in bed together later that night (or, six weeks later… jagged time lapses, remember?). Linda simply picks up the guitar she had given Jimi and walks out the door as Jimi implores, “No, Linda, no. Not the guitar.” Kathy is elevated past groupie status to girlfriend, as she and Jimi are virtually inseparable; Linda realizes that her jealousy was misplaced (she and Jimi, though very good friends, were never anything more) and returns the guitar (actually, a pawn ticket for the guitar) and all seems right in the world of Jimi Hendrix.
JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Tom Dunlea, Andre Benjamin and Oliver Bennett) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)
As Hendrix and Chandler marched inextricably toward a return to the States and the legendary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, there were, of course, several memorable events – all well documented – in those final months in London. Jimi needed a band; Jimi wanted a power trio like his idol, Eric Clapton, had with Cream. The auditions to find the perfect bass player and drummer, complimentary and exemplary players who could do what Jimi’s music and style demanded of them, were on. Noel Redding was tapped for the bassist position as much for his hair (“I like your hair, man. It’s wild, like Bob Dylan’s.”) and his vast musical knowledge as for his playing. In fact, Redding, a guitarist by trade, knew nothing about playing bass. When he asks how much the gig payed, Jimi tells him that everybody was broke, but that was cool: “Might as well hang out with us and be broke… and cool. It’s better than being just broke.” Feeling himself well on the way to being a rock star, Jimi calls his father, in Seattle to tell him the good news; his father is not impressed and, once more sensing that feeling of abandonment from his father, Jimi becomes moody and combative with those around him, who are only looking out for his best interests. Fulfilling a promise, Chandler takes Hendrix to see Cream at the Regent Street Polytechnic on October 1, 1966. Chas tells him that Clapton will meet him before the show; Jimi has him ask if he can sit in. This is one of the most famous first meetings in rock history; Hendrix plugs into Jack Bruce’s bass amp and asks the group if they know “Killing Floor,” starting the song cold, leaving Clapton, Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker to catch up. Bruce and Baker find the groove, but Clapton walks off stage without playing a note. Backstage, Eric asks Chandler, “Is he really that good?” Still searching for the third member of what was now to be known as the “Jimi Hendrix Experience,” Hendrix, Redding and Chanadler are debating the merits of the two finalists for the position. John “Mitch” Mitchell wins a hard fought battle over Aynsley Dunbar via a coin flip. Suddenly, we’re back to the beginning, with the band getting ready to take the stage at the Saville on June 4, 1967. With George Harrison and Paul McCartney in attendance, the Jimi Hendrix Experience would open the show with the just-released Beatles track, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” a gutsy move, but one that works. As he plugs in, Jimi turns to the crowd and, pointing to his ears, says, “Watch out for your ears.” The only thing that didn’t work for me in this scene was the guitar Hendrix was playing. I’ve seen film and photographs of the show and he was playing that white Gibson, not the painted flying V shown in the movie. A little artistic license, I suppose, wanting to show off another one of the man’s iconic guitars.
JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Imogen Poots; Andre Benjamin; Ruth Negga) (photo credits: PATRICK REDMOND)
I usually don’t go into such detail when reviewing a film but, as I said, much of this is canon as far as Jimi Hendrix is concerned. But… what about the movie itself? Andre Benjamin catches the essence of the young guitarist perfectly (except, as I mentioned, the hands), capturing especially well the phrasing and nuanced vocal patterns of the soft spoken Hendrix; most of the well-known people shown (mostly in cameos) look astonishingly like the real deals, which is an instant plus. The cast is superb, from top to bottom, including Ruth Negga (the girl in the flowered dress, Raina, in Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD), who has a pivotal role as Ida, a woman wanting Jimi to use his fame as a catalyst for a racial uprising (Hendrix’ response is beautifully poetic and one that should be used universally); of course, like Kathy, she, too, is a groupie looking to bed another rock star. The script doesn’t pull any punches with the portrayals of Jimi and all of the others (Clapton, in particular) and, really, that’s all you can ask of a docudrama like JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE. The film is rated R, primarily for language and the limited portrayal of drug use but, aside from that, this is a film that every music lover (well… except for those close-minded few that I discussed at the front of this thing) should see and will enjoy. Even without those classic Hendrix tunes.