(KETCHUP ENTERTAINMENT/COPPERHEART ENTERTAINMENT (86 minutes; Unrated); 2015)
When actor David Hewlett decided to write a Sci-Fi movie, I’m sure the concept looked pretty good on paper and – you know what? – even with a couple of black holes in the plot and unspoken back stories (due, no doubt, to time and budgetary constraints), the finished product looks pretty good, too. Hewlett’s script is equal parts 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY, TRON, WAR GAMES and just about every slasher movie ever made; toss in some nifty KILL BILL style fight scenes and a cast of beautiful – if limited – actors and you have a rollicking good time of a space opera with DEBUG.
DEBUG (Tenika Davis, Jason Mamoa) (publicity still)
The concept is relatively simple: Convicts on a work release derelict spaceship clean-up detail (got that?) are dispatched for one final debugging assignment before returning to lock-up; the debugging is of the computer kind, as long dormant vessels with still-functioning systems tend to become infected with various viruses and need to be cleaned before a reboot and a return to active service. We get a glimpse of just how corrupt the system is in a prologue that sees the sole survivor on-board, one of 1,200 prisoners (a terror-fraught cameo by Tenika Davis), stalked by a physical manifestation of the infected security program (malevolently played by future Aquaman, Jason Momoa). Suffice to say, bad things happen. The cleaners are under the supervision of a no nonsense (though somehow good-natured) guard named Capra (Adrian Holmes), who gets hijacked by the virus, doing its gruesome bidding. Capra’s eventual demise is kind of a side-splitter.
DEBUG (Adrian Holmes) (publicity still)
Of course, each member of the convict crew has their own little secret: Lara (Sidney Leeder) and team leader Mel (Kerr Hewitt) are – if not romantically – sexually involved; Diondra (Jaydn Wong) is looking for a quick score, but ends up with a splitting headache for her troubles; Samson’s exit (and, by extension, CARRIE’s Kyle Mac) was so quick, I’m not too sure I can even tell you what his secret was or what happened to him; tough-as-nails scarey chick Kaida (who really has a heart of gold, much like – I’m sure – the actress who portrays her, Jeananne Goossen) is all business, as she hacks into the rogue system for a bit of virtual butt kicking; James (played by Adam Butcher, Momoa’s co-star in WOLVES) is a former cadet whose dreams were smashed after pleading guilty to a cyber-crime committed by his younger brother. Each, seemingly working against the others, are given their own little vignette, as they are assigned different sections of the ship to work on; most interact with various “creature comfort” programs, all under the control of the evil “I Am” (Momoa), leading to varying degrees of pain and suffering. The final confrontation with the I Am and the ultimate sacrifice by one team member is right up there with other such selfless gestures for which the genre is so well known (Spock’s final moments in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN remain untouchable in that area).
DEBUG (Jeananne Goossen) (publicity still)
There are a plethora of direct-to-DVD Science-Fiction movies released every week, most of which are totally forgettable and many of those are utterly regrettable; DEBUG rises above the dross with an imaginative script and cold, antiseptic sets that add to the creepy machines-in-control aspect; the small blasts of color (the convicts’ orange jumpsuits and, yeah… a whole lot of blood) tend to be rather jarring against the bright lights and stark white of the spaceship. This is a movie that would have benefited from another 20 to 30 minutes. That’s something that I very rarely say about any movie but, here, the extra time would have definitely made an already strong feature into a great one, allowing the characters to be fleshed out more fully (we don’t really know why most of the crew are in prison or what motivates their actions on this mission), as well as offering a more in-depth examination of just how the ship’s computers became so corrupt.
DEBUG is unrated but, due to some strong language and some fairly brutal scenes of violence and death (a couple of which are quite imaginative), this one probably shouldn’t be viewed by anyone younger than, say, twelve. It’s not really a great date flick or family movie night fare… in fact, it may not be anything that the female of the species will find appealing at all. Having said that, it’ll play really well for a bunch of guys just hanging out in a man cave somewhere.
(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/JAM FILMS (95 minutes; Rated PG-13); 2015)
Can I tell you guys something? I don’t like golf. Never have and, considering my curmudgeon-like obstinacy and advanced years, probably never will. Everything about the sport (at least ’til Tiger came along… and, maybe, John Daly before him) is too quiet, too polite! I’ve only ever played the game (rather accurately dubbed by my father, “Cow Pasture Pool”) once. I shot a 64… I quit after the first hole. Here’s another little secret: I don’t like golf movies; except, of course, CADDYSHACK (and, yeah… I’ll even throw CADDYSHACK II in there, as well). Until now. THE SQUEEZE is more of a caper movie or a gangster movie but, with golf as the central element behind all of the intrigue and death threats, I think we can fairly safely call it a “golf movie.”
THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter) (publicity stills)
Most “based on actual events” stories are only marginally based on those events; THE SQUEEZE is no exception. Jeremy Sumpter (who was apparently in a television show called FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS… I’m sure the little girls know the one I’m talking about) plays golf savant Augie Baccas, a character loosely based on a guy named Keith Flatt. Baccas – like Flatt – is the Meadowlark Lemon of his small town’s golf club, winning a one day tournament by a course record fifteen shots. The flick begins, as most do, with Augie indulging in a game of cross country extreme golf with his friends, including his girlfriend, Natalie (played by Jillian Murray, whose resume includes the latest installment of the CABIN FEVER horror franchise). With Augie bemoaning his financial state and his inability to make a better life for his mother and little sister (all three are under the thumb of the abusive Baccas patriarch), golf and Natalie are his only escapes; he dreams of joining the PGA Tour and qualifying for the US Open.
THE SQUEEZE (Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald, Jeremy Sumpter) (publicity stll)
After a particularly brutal confrontation with his father, Augie is offered a way to make enough money to remove his family from his drunken lout of a father. That offer comes from a gambler named Riverboat (a sleazy, almost endearing character portrayed by Christopher McDonald) who, driving cross country to Las Vegas for a poker tournament, after hearing a report of Augie’s phenomenal feat on the local radio station, changes course to locate the young man to convince him to come to Vegas and use his talents in high-stakes matches against unsuspecting golfers. Along for the ride is Riverboat’s high-maintenance wife, Jessie (Katherine LaNasa), whose provocative dress and coyly flirtatious demeanor are so distracting to opponents that she is as important to Riverboat’s game plan as are his gambling skills. Naturally, Natalie is concerned and angered that Augie would compromise his reputation and integrity for a quick buck, earned in a rather dubious fashion under the tutelage of an obvious shyster. She has Augie leaning toward turning down the offer until Riverboat waves a stack of hundred dollar bills under his nose. The decision made, Augie asks Natalie to look after his sister and mother and, though she refuses to speak to him, she does agree to keep an eye on his family.
THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter, Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald) (publicity still)
Working their way to Las Vegas, Augie, Riverboat and Jessie play the best of the best at every course along the way, amassing a nice little nest egg for the ultimate Vegas fleecing: Riverboat plans to engage notorious card sharp and mid-level gangster Jimmy Diamonds (Micahel Nouri) in a poker game. After winning big, Riverboat suggests a golf match between Augie and Diamonds, giving the latter a chance to win his money back. Diamonds knows a ringer when he sees one and counters with a ringer of his own, reigning NCAA champion Aaron Bolt (Jason Dohring, who was in some movie about some television series that I never watched), who has made his own deal with a much more violent devil. Diamonds sets Augie up and, breaking in to his hotel room, tells Augie that if he does not lose the next day’s million dollar round to Bolt, he will end up in the deep end of a swimming pool with lead weights tied to his ankles. When Augie tries to get out of his deal with Riverboat, the gambler tells him in no uncertain terms that if he does not WIN the million dollar challenge, HE will kill him. With Augie caught between a rock and very hard place, the final third of the movie features enough twists and turns and all-out action (as well as some questions best left unanswered) to make THE SQUEEZE one cool thrill ride of a caper flick.
THE SQUEEZE (Christopher McDonald; Katherine LaNasa) (publicity stills)
The attention to detail in the golf sequences is amazing. Sumpter (and, I understand, Dohring, as well) can really play and most of their golf shots – even the trick shots – are real and were generally first takes. Sumpter, in fact, could probably qualify for a spot on the Tour. Of course, the main reason that everything looks so legitimate is because writer/producer/director Terry Jastrow was a junior champion himself and actually caddied for Arnold Palmer; he also became a producer at ABC Sports at the age of 22, winning seven Emmy Awards for his groundbreaking golf coverage. The fact that he’s married to actress Anne Archer is merely a bonus as regards THE SQUEEZE. The family, relationship, gambling and action sequences range from stilted to over-the-top, though, honestly, a couple of the characters call for an over-the-top performance (particularly Jessie and, to a lesser extent, Riverboat); Sumpter’s portrayal of Augie is the most grounded and believable but, overall, the cast does a good job.
THE SQUEEZE (Michael Nouri) (publicity still)
I’ve seen THE SQUEEZE reviewed as a “Faith-based” production and, I suppose, it does have certain elements that could cause it to be considered a morality play of sorts. However, there are also some dirty, gritty elements (coarse language, some drug use and sexual situations, not to mention the violence) that would probably exclude it from most “Family” movie lists. Having said that, parents shouldn’t necessarily shy away from making it a family movie night option; I wouldn’t be too concerned about allowing a twelve year old to watch it. The film would also make a great date night offering for Mom and Dad. If the actual game of golf was more like a cross between this flick and CADDYSHACK, I might actually find myself a bit more interested in it.
(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!
It was forty years ago last year when a group of struggling musicians with an ambitious sound and an unassuming name released their first album, sending them on a ten year journey of self-discovery and musical dominance in a field generally considered the exclusive realm of rather high-minded and esoteric English bands. To celebrate, all six original members reconvened to reminisce about everything from those humble beginnings to their breakthrough albums, LEFTOVERTURE and POINT OF KNOW RETURN, and the singles those albums spawned – “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust In the Wind.” Those reminiscences are featured in a new documentary called MIRACLES OUT OF NOWHERE, which also includes input from Garth Brooks, Brian May and ROLLING STONE scribe David Wild, among others. This special package features that documentary on DVD (or Blu-Ray), as well as a specially curated CD that covers those first five groundbreaking albums, compiled by drummer Phil Ehart and long-time producer Jeff Glixman.
Though the documentary does feature snippets of songs and rare concert footage, it’s really more about the story, which is fine with me. And, even though the guys rarely appear together on camera, there are plenty of great stories to be heard. One of the best involves Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and how opening act Kansas thwarted his attempts to pull the plug on a particularly well-received set in their home state. When the guys do appear together, it’s on a bus, recreating their drives across the state from early in their career. There’s a certain sense of camaraderie, the type that everybody feels when you’re reunited with old friends after an extended period of time; the old problems and feuds are forgotten and things just naturally pick up where they left off before those things intruded. If you want to see a bit more of the guys discussing the old days together, there is a special edition release with an extra DVD of material of just that, available only from the band’s dedicated website if pre-ordered before the release date (March 16, 2015).
Kansas, circa 1973 (Phil Ehart, Kerry Livgren, Steve Walsh, Rich Williams, Robby Steinhardt, Dave Hope) (photo credit: DON HUNSTEIN)
The CD intersperses dialogue from the documentary with the hits and some deeper cuts from the band’s first five records. There are, of course, the group’s two biggest successes, as well as several tracks that have become staples at Classic Rock radio. You’ll recognize the ones I mean as we discuss each track individually. Now, you may be asking yourself, why do we need to discuss individual tracks that are 35 to 40 years old? Well… a couple of reasons: I really didn’t get into Kansas until their sixth release, the live album TWO FOR THE SHOW and, while I was an avid consumer of music back then, I didn’t write reviews like this one. That second reason actually leads to a third reason for an in-depth review: Cuz I wanna and cuz I can (does that make it four reasons? But, then, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!).
Kansas, circa 1974 (Dave Hope, Rich Williams, Robby Steinhardt, Phil Ehart, Steve Walsh, Kerry Livgren) (publicity photo)
The disc is fairly chronological, as it begins with material from KANSAS and ends with songs from POINT OF KNOW RETURN (stopping at each subsequent album in between), although each record’s offerings are re-sequenced from the order in which they originally appeared. That means that this collection starts with the sixth track on 1974’s debut release, “The Pilgrimage,” which is actually pretty standard Midwest rock ‘n’ roll from the period. Except, of course, for Robby Steinhardt’s violin. There is absolutely nothing about this tune that would lead you to believe that these guys would become the standard-bearer for American progressive music by the release of album number two. While “Can I Tell You” was Side one, Track one of the KANSAS record, this version was recorded live for DON KIRSHNER’S ROCK CONCERT. The weird thing about it was that there was no audience; the band was as shocked to discover that when they took the stage as I was when they told the story in the documentary… I mean, who knew? Anyway, “Can I Tell You” is Kansas with their prog roots starting to show and, it’s one of those tracks that you’re likely to hear on the radio when the DJ is sick of playing the hits. “Journey From Mariabronn” is eight minutes of progressive pomp, beautifully constructed and symphonic in its scope. This is the song that really had the other guys in the band standing up and taking notice of Steve Walsh’s vocal abilities.
Kansas, circa 1977 (Kerry Livgren, Phil Ehart, Rich Williams, Robby Steinhardt, Steve Walsh, dave Hope) (publicity photo)
“Song For America,” the title track to the second record, sees chief songwriter Kerry Livgren upping his game. The ten minute piece strays a bit into Yes territory with its elegance and power, its intricate time signatures and arrangement. A straight forward rocker, “Down the Road” features a heavy Dave Hope bass line and some wicked duels between Steinhardt and guitarist Rich Williams (or, is it Livgren… or, maybe, both?). There is a section where guitar, bass and violin are playing in harmony that is absolutely magical! The prog-rockery was ratcheted up another notch with MASQUE and its centerpiece, the doublet of “Icarus” and “Borne On Wings of Steel.” The track features a pumping organ from Walsh and some heavy guitar riffs and solos, with the main solo sounding kinda like something that Steve Howe woulda played. With all of that happening, the highlight of the song is found with the amazingly tight harmony vocals. “The Pinnacle” is a majestic, symphonic number, with several musical and emotional levels… and, that’s just in the nearly three minute intro. Phil Ehart’s drums thunder and swell just below the vocals as the song continually threatens to explode in a rock ‘n’ roll fury but, sorta like something by ELP, it’s reined in right before everything blows. The tension, searching desperately for a release, is the driving force until the second, muscular guitar solo (at about the 7:45 mark), but that’s only a tease. The song is a great exercise in dynamics.
LEFTOVERTURE is where record sales finally caught up with the inherent talent of Kansas. This time out, Kerry Livgren’s songs, while not being overtly religious, are much more… spiritual, looking inward and reaching upward. Three of the first four songs on LEFTOVERTURE are presented here, beginning with “The Wall,” another slow, symphonic piece with great harmony guitars and a hymn-like keyboard coda. “Carry On Wayward Son” is THE song that Kansas will forever be remembered for. The release that never came during “The Pinnacle” finally arrives… in spades! With one of the most recognizable choruses and riffs in the history of music, not just rock, “Carry On…” still receives as much airplay as “Stairway To Heaven” or “Free Bird.” That middle section is stunningly powerful, with evocative organ and guitar solos. The song that gave this collection its name, “Miracles Out of Nowhere,” reaches Dennis DeYoung heights of pomposity, with welcome flourishes of late-period King Crimson (before they broke up the first time) mixed in during the instrumental break.
Kansas (Robby Steinhardt, Steve Walsh) (video still); (Dave Hope) (photo credit: DAVID CARSTENS)
“Point of Know Return,” from the album of the same name, is probably the most well-known number from Kansas’ early oeuvre that isn’t “Carry On…” or “Dust In the Wind.” A nifty bass line from Dave Hope underscores some fairly progressive keyboard, violin and guitar parts on what is pretty much another rather Styxian sounding rocker. “Dust In the Wind” is another brilliant, subliminally spiritual song from Kerry Livgren. The beauty of the piece – aside from the lyrics – lies in its simplicity. Stripped down to the vocals of Steve Walsh and Robby Steinhardt, the guitars of Rich Williams and Livgren and Steinhardt’s violin, it’s a beautiful, sentimental tune that all of the girls wanted to slow dance to at the end of the high school dance for years to come. The final track here is “Nobody’s Home,” another elegant ballad, highlighted by a delicate piano and a rousing finale. It’s an absolutely fitting end to a great look back at a band that, at the time, stood tall among the rock elite. Unfortunately, though the guys remain friends, there are no plans for a reunion album or tour. Too bad. I, for one, would love to see that old fire and passion rekindled… if only for little while.