SEE YOU IN VALHALLA

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/TARNOL GROUP PICTURES (82 minutes; Rated R); 2015)

SeeYouInValhalla_2D

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)

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)

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 (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.


A STORY TO BE TOLD: THE PATRICK TOURVILLE INTERVIEW

AN INTRODUCTION

Jerry Jeff Walker and Patrick Tourville, 2011 (uncredited photo)

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)

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)

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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)

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 like Ray 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 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.

AN INTERVIEW

Patrick Tourville (publicity photo)

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)

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)

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?

PATRICK: Go to my website, publikpictures.com. It’s all there.

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)

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)

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.


JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/MAIN STREET FILMS/RAPIDFIRE ENTERTAINMENT (93 minutes; Rated R); 2015)

John Doe Vigilante

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)

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)

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)

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.


THE STEPHEN SONDHEIM COLLECTION

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT (747 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

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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)

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.


TEETH AND BLOOD

(Digital and DVD; IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/URBAN MOVIE CHANNEL/ROBSTAR ENTERTAINMENT (101 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

TeethandBlood

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)

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)

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)

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)

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.


WOLFCOP

(Digital and DVD; IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/CINE COUP MEDIA/VORTEX WORDS AND PICTURES (79 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

WOLFCOP_DVD_LOC

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)

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)

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)

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)

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 lasts about 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.

WOLFCOP (Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio) (publicity still)

WOLFCOP (Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio) (publicity still)

So, does WOLFCOP deserve your hard-earned shekels? Oh, yeah! Sure, the plots 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!


KANSAS: MIRACLES OUT OF NOWHERE

(LEGACY RECORDINGS/KIRSHNER RECORDS/EPIC RECORDS/SONY MUSIC; 2015)

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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)

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)

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)

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.

Kansas (Rich Williams) (photo credit: VICTOR PETERS); (Phil Ehart, Kerry Livgren, 2009) (photo credit: LAURIE LARSON)

Kansas (Rich Williams) (photo credit: VICTOR PETERS); (Phil Ehart, Kerry Livgren, 2009) (photo credit: LAURIE LARSON)

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)

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.


ZOMBIEWORLD

(Digital and DVD; IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/DREAD CENTRAL MEDIA/RUTHLESS PICTURES (100 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

Zombie-world

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.

ZOMBIEWORLD (Bill Oberst, Junior) (publicity still)

ZOMBIEWORLD (Bill Oberst, Junior) (publicity still)

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)

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)

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!”


FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/RUTHLESS PICTURES (114 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

Box art

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)

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)

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)

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)

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.


JAMES WILLIAMSON: RE-LICKED

(LEOPARD LADY RECORDS; 2014)

Re-Licked_Cover

By 1972, the Stooges were collapsing in upon themselves; the band were two years removed from their second album, FUNHOUSE; they were dropped by their record label, Elektra, and bassist Dave Alexander and guitarist Ron Asheton were gone. James Williamson was the new hot-shot guitar-slinger but, without a record company to back them, Iggy Stooge (now Iggy Pop), drummer Scott Asheton and Williamson were on the verge of packing it in. Then, David Bowie stepped in, convincing his management team, MainMan, to take a flyer on the down-and-nearly-out Detroit bad boys and securing a record deal with Columbia; with Bowie taking a hand in the studio and Ron back in the fold (as a rather disgruntled bass player), the group gave us the seminal 1973 album, RAW POWER. Iggy and Williamson had been writing and demoing material for their next record but, not seeing the kind of return they were expecting, Columbia dropped the band. Williamson and Pop released the KILL CITY album, a live record (METALLIC KO), as well as a couple of EPs of demos before Iggy, with Bowie’s help, went on to a long and erratic solo career. Over the years, other demos have cropped up on various bootlegs. Williamson was said to have been in retirement when the Stooges came calling again, in 2009, after the death of Ron Asheton; in 2014, with the band on hiatus following Scott Asheton’s death, Williamson decided it was time to give those now-ancient songs a proper unveiling. Though Iggy declined to participate on the project, he did give James his approval to re-record the tunes, utilizing a core group of Cat Power’s Gregg Foreman on keyboards, Primal Scream’s Simone Marie Butler on bass and uber-drummer Michael Urbano, as well as the Stooges’ touring band and a string of punk and alt-rock heavy-hitters to bring Iggy’s lyrics to life. Forty years in the making, RE-LICKED is the result.

James Williamson; Alison Mosshart; James Williamson (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)

James Williamson; Alison Mosshart; James Williamson (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)

If I were going to fire an opening salvo across the bow of the enemy, I think that shot would probably be loaded with the demented warble of activist and former Dead Kennedys vocalist, Jello Biafra; apparently Williamson thought the same thing with Biafra’s frantic howl leading the charge on “Head On the Curve.” The tune kinda has a “Stooges meets the MC5 at a mixer hosted by the New York Dolls” vibe, with Foreman’s barely-controlled tack piano coda, massive fuzzed-out bass from Simone (with additional low-end from Mark Culbertson’s contra bass) and – of course – Williamson’s typical slash-and-burn guitar. “Open Up and Bleed” is a sweltering, stormy Blues track. It features an inventive lead from Williamson, alongside another nice solo, as well as some minor key piano from Stooges drummer Toby Dammit; the real highlight comes from the throat of under-rated Blues wailer, Carolyn Wonderland, who also adds a dose of her unique guitar sound. Primal Scream vocalist (and former Jesus and Mary Chain drummer) Bobby Gillespie offers his usual ragged, snotty voice to “Scene of the Crime,” a loud, sloppy piece of raunch with the tack piano (provided by Butler) and lo-fi rhythm section (Butler again, with Urbano banging away on the drums) that was the hallmark of RAW POWER. Steve Mackay offers some sludgy sax work, while James adds a stinging solo. While the majority of the songs here are Pop/Williamson compositions, “She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills” was co-written by Iggy and original Stooges guitarist, Ron Asheton. The tune is a jazzy blast of swampy Doors Style rock and roll, with Manzarek-like keyboards from Foreman and Ariel Pink, ably abetted by Petra Haden, offers up a weird James Brown meets Jim Morrison vocal scat, as Dammit and bassist Mike Watt add a perverse rhythmic swing to the proceedings. There’s also a skronking kind of sax solo from Mackay that is of a variety that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Mothers album. On what is probably the best track on the album, “’Til the End of the Night,” Alison Mosshart’s (of the Kills and the Dead Weather) atmospheric moaning is delivered over Williamson’s sparse acoustic and Urbano’s heavy, orchestral percussion. The tension builds to about the 3:15 mark when everything explodes, collapsing into a jagged electric solo before reverting back to form for the final minute or so.

James Williamson (photo credit: HEATHER HARRIS)

James Williamson (photo credit: HEATHER HARRIS)

Iggy’s “I Got a Right” crashes Stooges punk into Mother’s Finest rockin’ soul with vocals from the wildly talented Lisa Kekaula (of the Bellrays) wailing away over the Dammit/Watt rhythm section, Petra Haden’s oddly non-verbal backing vocals and a full horn section that includes Allison Gomer, Steffan Kuehn and Aaron Lington. Of course, the master of ceremony holds court with another dose of raunchy rock guitar on a song that woulda made Wendy O and the Plasmatics smile. “Pin Point Eyes” has a dirty, 1920s bawdy house feel, with Foreman’s ragtimey piano and the same horn section as “I Got a Right” dominating the rhythm. The Icarus Line’s Joe Cardamone’s vocals fall somewhere between Berlin-era Iggy and Johnny Thunders’ drugged-addled slurs. All of this, along with a rather restrained solo from James makes the track one of my favorites… this is the type of thing that I think Stiv Bator would be doing if he’d stuck around. The magnificent Alison Mosshart returns for “Wild Love” and she brings Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Queens of the Stone Age… you get the idea… the guy’s got quite a pedigree!) along for the ride. With a butt-load of snarling guitars and the retro sound of Urbano’s drums and Butler’s bass, it’s a love song, Stooges style, and may just be the closest approximation to the band’s first Williamson era. There’s kind of an abstract Bowie-ness to “Rubber Leg.” The stomping rocker features a nifty, gravelly vocal from Little Caesar’s Ron Young amid a miasma of sound with Rolling Stones-like backing vocals and a weird, distorted sax from Steve Mackay that’s buried deep in the mix, coming up for air on an odd Farfisa run from Foreman; the whole thing is very noisy and quite disjointed and… I like it! “I’m Sick of You” is an archaic, American Gothic tune for the first half, with moody guitars and keyboards oozing underneath atmospheric vocals from the Orwells’ Mario Cuomo. It turns into a classic Stooges blast of intensity, with Williamson’s massive power-riffing tolling the death-knell of a broken relationship.

Lisa Kekaula; James Williamson; Mark Lanegan (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)

Lisa Kekaula; James Williamson; Mark Lanegan (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)

Now… with apologies to the Chairman of the Board (c’mon… you all know who Im talking about) and lyricist Paul Anka, there’s this: “And now, the end is near. Bonus tracks? We’ve got a few, but then again too few not to mention.” Carolyn Wonderland returns on vocals and guitar a funky blast of punk (or, is that a punky blast of funk?) called “Gimme Some Skin,” the first of six CD bonus cuts. Buoying Carolyn’s soulful voice are ragged, frenzied guitar blasts from both she and Williamson, as well as a wicked harmonica run from Walter Daniels and some James Chance post-punk sax bleats from Mackay. The first of two takes of “Cock In My Pocket” features typically raunchy Iggy lyrics, delivered with throat-throttling fervor by former Hellacoptors and current Imperial State Electric singer Nicke Andersson. The track also highlights some brilliant baritone sax from Aaron Lington. Another welcome return is featured on “Heavy Liquid.” Lisa Kekaula’s Paul Stanley-like howls carry the wicked Detroit-centric melding of the Stooges with the MC5, Death, Alice Cooper and Mitch Ryder over a muddy RAW POWER sound, with trashy horns from Kuehn, Lington and Gomer. Expanding the rock and roll pool to more of a world stage, the underlying riff is quite reminiscent of Budgie’s “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” and about half-a-dozen other hard rock classics, not to mention a bit of Devo and a sniff of Talking Heads. Other than lead singer Shea Roberts and guitarist Jesse Nichols, the Richmond Sluts (Chris B, Justin Lynn, John Tyree) seem to be relegated to the role of vocal support on “Wet My Bed,” with James, Simone, Gregg and Michael doing all of the heavy lifting, instrumentally. The arrangement works really well, with a shambolic free-for-all that sounds like the Dolls channeling Chuck Berry at a ROCKY HORROR SHOW revival; Williamson does his best Johnny Thunders doing his best Chuck and Foreman offers up a great tribute to the late, great Johnnie Johnson (the TRUE King of Rock and Roll)… this one’s a lot of fun. There’s not a lot difference between the first and second versions of “Cock In My Pocket,” other than the punkier voice of Gary Floyd, giving this version a Handsome Dick Manitoba/Dictators vibe. An alternate version of “Rubber Leg” sounds closer to RAW POWER than the regular album version, especially with the Iggy-cum-Joey Ramone yelps of JG Thirlwell, the alter-ego of the extreme artist known as Foetus. RE-LICKED is essential listening for rockers the world over, reminding us all why we started listening to rock and roll in the first place. The album is available in two physical formats: The first is a vinyl version with the first ten cuts… no bonus tracks, but it does come with a CD version that does feature all sixteen tunes; the second version is a standard release of the sixteen track CD. Both versions feature a cool “Making of… ” feature on a bonus DVD, a very nice addition to the entire experience.