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.


JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE

(XLRATOR MEDIA/DARKO ENTERTAINMENT/FREEMANFILMS/MATADOR PICTURES (118 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE cover

When this movie was originally announced, there were grumblings and, in the case of Experience Hendrix (the company formed by some members of the Hendrix family to oversee everything Jimi), outright venom spewed at director/writer John Ridley, actor Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000 of the hip-hop/pop/rock duo, Outkast) and others associated with the project. The Experience Hendrix people demanded complete participation and final approval on every aspect of the movie, including who would play Jimi; they were adamant that Benjamin be replaced. When their demands were rebuked, they pulled all licensing of Hendrix’ music for use in the film. Feathers were also ruffled by the portrayal of certain of the man’s character traits and, no doubt, the characterization of his father, Al. I could never really understand the family’s dislike of Mister Benjamin but, I have read some rather ludicrous comments from others on the subject: Andre, according to one person, was several shades too dark to accurately portray the lighter skinned Hendrix (that one just absolutely boggles the mind); another cited Benjamin’s age (somewhere around 37 when filming began), stating that he was too old to play a 23 year old Hendrix (uh… that’s just ridiculous… let’s examine, shall we? The four high school kids from WELCOME BACK, KOTTER were all in their twenties when the series began – John Travolta was the youngest, at 21; Ron Pallilo was 26 and only four years younger than his “teacher,” Gabe Kaplan. That’s just one example… this kinda stuff happens regularly in movies and television), but if 60 is the new 40, then 40 is the new 27 and, suddenly, 37 isn’t so far removed from 23. Another… I’m gonna call it an “observation” that I’ve read (and heard from friends) is the fact that Andre is a “hip-hop” guy and, well, he couldn’t know anything about Jimi Hendrix (ay, caramba! I give up!). Of course, the major complaint is the fact that the film-makers could not use any of Jimi’s music. So, how does the movie stack up against all of that hate? Very well, thank you.

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE ( Andre Benjamin and Imogen Poots) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE ( Andre Benjamin and Imogen Poots) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

Before getting into the meat and taters (so to speak) of the film, I would like to address several of the issues listed above. Let’s start with the biggie: Jimi’s music. The ban was limited to actual recordings of Hendrix and to songs that he wrote. The former really had no bearing on the production, as the music was performed by a crack group of session men (guitarist Waddy Wachtel, bassist Leland Sklar and drummer Kenny Aranoff), with vocals by Benjamin; the latter would have been devastating had the movie focused on Jimi’s legendary career past June 1967, because during the time span featured (June 1966 through June 1967), Hendrix had only released one album (ARE YOU EXPERIENCED in May ’67) and three singles (sure, two of those were “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary,” but those also came out in May ’67). So, the music focuses on the time that Hendrix played rhythm and blues standards with Curtis Knight and such classic blues numbers as “Killing Floor” and “Manish Boy.” As far as I’m concerned, that works fine for me and plays into the narrative of Hendrix’ rise to stardom in England during that twelve-month period. The Hendrix family, no doubt, wanted to avoid much of the foibles and the darker side of, not only Jimi, but his father, as well; I gotta admit that I was shocked by a couple of violent outbursts in the film but, who among us can say they are foible-free and don’t possess a darker side to some extent? Now, as far as Andre Benjamin’s skin-tone, if he were a white guy in black make-up, I would see that as a definite problem; since, however, the performance and the voice and the mannerisms are the important thing here, I’m good, as Andre was spot on, based on just about every film clip I’ve ever seen or every audio clip that I’ve ever heard of Jimi Hendrix… except the hands… for some reason, the way he holds and plays the guitar and the way he uses his hands throughout just doesn’t match up with what Hendrix did. You saw my feelings regarding the age discrepancy, so we’ll move on from there to Andre 3000 being a hip-hop guy and not knowing anything about Hendrix. Really? I’m a pasty white guy from the middle of nowhere who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s as a pasty white kid from the middle of nowhere, but I know and love a wide variety of music and artists from the ’50s and earlier. And, hey, just to make that particular section of the populace even crankier, I listen to hip-hop, too.

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Andre Benjamin) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Andre Benjamin) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

If I have one complaint about JIMI… it’s that it tends to jump around a bit much, leaving a lot of the context of what’s happening up to the viewer (a noble tactic for a horror movie… not here). There are also several stop frames, where a character is identified (Keith Richard, Chas Chandler, Noel Redding) before moving into whatever scene is up next. The whole thing rather reminds me of an old John’s Children song called “Jagged Time Lapse,” which the songwriter, when asked what the title meant, replied, “It’s about jagged lapses of time, innit?” The movie starts at the end, on June 4, 1967, as the Jimi Hendrix Experience are about to take the stage at the Saville Theatre in London (of which, more later). We are quickly transported in time back one year, to the Cheetah Club in New York, where Jimi is playing with Curtis Knight. One of the audience members is the very bored, very spoiled girlfriend of Keith Richard, Linda Keith (played by the beautiful and unfortunately named Imogen Poots), who is immediately taken with the man hiding in the back corner of the stage, just waiting for his solo to come around. Flash forward to Linda turning Jimi on to acid and, later, trying to make him see just how gifted a musician he really is. When he tells her that he can’t leave Knight’s band because the guitar he’s using belongs to his employer, she buys him the white Gibson that would become somewhat of a trademark during those early days. As Linda becomes more involved with Hendrix, she begins to contact the movers and shakers within her circle (the Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, co-founders of the newly formed Sire Records, Seymour Stein and Richard Gottehrer), actively seeking a management and recording deal for him. In a particularly humorous (and somewhat ironic) scene, the Stones’ guitar player, in a petulant pique of jealousy, visits Linda’s father to have him intervene in the situation with Jimi; Keith tells Mister Keith, “And he’s a drug addict. Did you know that? He has her strung out all the time.”

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Haylet Atwell and Andre Benjamin) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Haylet Atwell and Andre Benjamin) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

A chance meeting with Animals bassist Bryan “Chas” Chandler, at the end of an American tour (and the end of the original Animals line-up), finally garners Linda the guidance for Jimi’s career that she has been seeking: Chandler (played by a virtual doppleganger, Andrew Buckley) is retiring from playing and moving into management. The scene where Chas first hears Hendrix is an absolute priceless moment in the film, with Chandler’s eyes wide and jaw dropped as he’s mesmerized by the guitarist’s ability (if not his stage presence). Linda sets up a meeting between the two rockers and, literally, history is made as Chandler convinces Jimi to head for the much greener pastures of England, with promises of a much more diverse and open-minded approach to the burgeoning music scene there. Jimi arrives in London on September 24, 1966 but, still waiting for his work visa to be approved, his playing time is limited to a couple of minutes onstage. As Chas, Linda and Jimi make the rounds at all of the local clubs, Jimi is noticed by Kathy Etchingham (played by Marvel’s AGENT CARTER, Hayley Atwell, who, it should be noted, doesn’t look anything like Chas Chandler); likewise, Kathy is noticed by Linda, who becomes violently jealous when she catches the pair in bed together later that night (or, six weeks later… jagged time lapses, remember?). Linda simply picks up the guitar she had given Jimi and walks out the door as Jimi implores, “No, Linda, no. Not the guitar.” Kathy is elevated past groupie status to girlfriend, as she and Jimi are virtually inseparable; Linda realizes that her jealousy was misplaced (she and Jimi, though very good friends, were never anything more) and returns the guitar (actually, a pawn ticket for the guitar) and all seems right in the world of Jimi Hendrix.

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Tom Dunlea, Andre Benjamin and Oliver Bennett) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Tom Dunlea, Andre Benjamin and Oliver Bennett) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

As Hendrix and Chandler marched inextricably toward a return to the States and the legendary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, there were, of course, several memorable events – all well documented – in those final months in London. Jimi needed a band; Jimi wanted a power trio like his idol, Eric Clapton, had with Cream. The auditions to find the perfect bass player and drummer, complimentary and exemplary players who could do what Jimi’s music and style demanded of them, were on. Noel Redding was tapped for the bassist position as much for his hair (“I like your hair, man. It’s wild, like Bob Dylan’s.”) and his vast musical knowledge as for his playing. In fact, Redding, a guitarist by trade, knew nothing about playing bass. When he asks how much the gig payed, Jimi tells him that everybody was broke, but that was cool: “Might as well hang out with us and be broke… and cool. It’s better than being just broke.” Feeling himself well on the way to being a rock star, Jimi calls his father, in Seattle to tell him the good news; his father is not impressed and, once more sensing that feeling of abandonment from his father, Jimi becomes moody and combative with those around him, who are only looking out for his best interests. Fulfilling a promise, Chandler takes Hendrix to see Cream at the Regent Street Polytechnic on October 1, 1966. Chas tells him that Clapton will meet him before the show; Jimi has him ask if he can sit in. This is one of the most famous first meetings in rock history; Hendrix plugs into Jack Bruce’s bass amp and asks the group if they know “Killing Floor,” starting the song cold, leaving Clapton, Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker to catch up. Bruce and Baker find the groove, but Clapton walks off stage without playing a note. Backstage, Eric asks Chandler, “Is he really that good?” Still searching for the third member of what was now to be known as the “Jimi Hendrix Experience,” Hendrix, Redding and Chanadler are debating the merits of the two finalists for the position. John “Mitch” Mitchell wins a hard fought battle over Aynsley Dunbar via a coin flip. Suddenly, we’re back to the beginning, with the band getting ready to take the stage at the Saville on June 4, 1967. With George Harrison and Paul McCartney in attendance, the Jimi Hendrix Experience would open the show with the just-released Beatles track, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” a gutsy move, but one that works. As he plugs in, Jimi turns to the crowd and, pointing to his ears, says, “Watch out for your ears.” The only thing that didn’t work for me in this scene was the guitar Hendrix was playing. I’ve seen film and photographs of the show and he was playing that white Gibson, not the painted flying V shown in the movie. A little artistic license, I suppose, wanting to show off another one of the man’s iconic guitars.

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Imogen Poots; Andre Benjamin; Ruth Negga) (photo credits: PATRICK REDMOND)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Imogen Poots; Andre Benjamin; Ruth Negga) (photo credits: PATRICK REDMOND)

I usually don’t go into such detail when reviewing a film but, as I said, much of this is canon as far as Jimi Hendrix is concerned. But… what about the movie itself? Andre Benjamin catches the essence of the young guitarist perfectly (except, as I mentioned, the hands), capturing especially well the phrasing and nuanced vocal patterns of the soft spoken Hendrix; most of the well-known people shown (mostly in cameos) look astonishingly like the real deals, which is an instant plus. The cast is superb, from top to bottom, including Ruth Negga (the girl in the flowered dress, Raina, in Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD), who has a pivotal role as Ida, a woman wanting Jimi to use his fame as a catalyst for a racial uprising (Hendrix’ response is beautifully poetic and one that should be used universally); of course, like Kathy, she, too, is a groupie looking to bed another rock star. The script doesn’t pull any punches with the portrayals of Jimi and all of the others (Clapton, in particular) and, really, that’s all you can ask of a docudrama like JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE. The film is rated R, primarily for language and the limited portrayal of drug use but, aside from that, this is a film that every music lover (well… except for those close-minded few that I discussed at the front of this thing) should see and will enjoy. Even without those classic Hendrix tunes.


TINSELTOWN: MURDER, MORPHINE, AND MADNESS AT THE DAWN OF HOLLYWOOD

(William J Mann; 463 pages; HARPER BOOKS/HARPER-COLLINS PUBLISHERS; 2014)

9780062242167

William J Mann’s new book is an historical, scholarly and meticulously researched look at the earliest days of Hollywood that reads like one of the best murder mysteries you’re likely to come across this year. The story delves into the lengths that an entire industry would go to to cover up a scandal… any scandal. As “moving pictures” or “flickers,” as they were called, began to take hold of a public looking for the next new thing in entertainment, there were no rules; churches and civic groups didn’t like that and began crusades to censor the industry in hopes of crippling it to the point that it would fold in upon itself and just go away. Those moguls who were making money hand over fist were, naturally, not inclined to let that happen.

TINSELTOWN (William Desmond Taylor) (publicity photo)

TINSELTOWN (William Desmond Taylor) (publicity photo)

Beginning in 1917, and through 1923, drugs, suicide, murder, rape and lasciviousness of every nature befell the motion picture industry, as the hard-living individuals who appeared on the nation’s silver screens carried on their private lives. In retrospect, these things were happening in virtually every walk of life but, the utility worker down the street stepping out on his wife wasn’t as glamorous or newsworthy as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s reportedly drunken soiree where a young actress named Virginia Rappe was one of the guests. Arbuckle was, famously, accused of raping the young woman in a drunken stupor, his enormous weight causing her bladder to rupture, leading to her death. The courts (and three separate juries – the first two unable to come to a verdict) eventually acquitted Arbuckle of all charges, but his career was, ostensibly, over from the time he opened the door of his hotel room to the revelers on that day in September, 1921 when Virginia Rappe took ill. He was brought back to Paramount Studios on a probationary status; the studio released one of the movies Fatty had made before his arrest and all seemed well… until the 1920s’ version of the thought police threatened to close down every theater that would show such filth as a Fatty Arbuckle comedy. The Roscoe Arbuckle story and trial play as a backdrop to the real tale here.

TINSELTOWN (BRIGHT LIGHTS title card with Mabel Normand and Roscoe Arbuckle)

TINSELTOWN (BRIGHT LIGHTS title card with Mabel Normand and Roscoe Arbuckle)

Hollywood, in the ’20s, was a very different place than it is today; the movie industry was definitely more concerned with the public’s opinions of their stars. Paying off newspaper editors to keep their stars’ names out of the headlines, covering up evidence and flat out lying to the authorities was standard operating procedures from studio heads (one, in particular, Adolph Zukor of Famous Players-Lasky, later Paramount, was especially adept at keeping the tarnish off of his stars). One of the foremost directors of this early era of movie-making was William Desmond Taylor; Billy, as the ladies called him, worked for Zukor. Sometime around eight in the evening of February 1, 1922, Taylor was murdered in his home. The list of suspects in the crime was a crowded one, including stars and former stars of the film industry, friends, employees and former employees of the deceased, the haves and the have-nots and the power players of the Hollywood movie machine. The murder was virtually forgotten until 1964, when one of the original suspects made a dying confession to the son of a neighbor; still, it took years of digging and research before a definitive answer to an eighty year-old mystery could be laid to rest. As ghoulish as it may sound, the fun of this story is wading through the murder and the depravity that led to it. Mann is a master storyteller, delivering a riveting look at the early twentieth century’s movers and hustlers, all the while never losing sight of the facts of the case; sometimes those facts and the wildly over-the-top personalities involved seem far to bizarre to be a true crime story.

TINSELTOWN (Mabel Normand) (publicity photo)

TINSELTOWN (Mabel Normand) (publicity photo)

The suspects include the four notable women in Taylor’s life: Mabel Normand, a hard-living comedy actress (she was alternately known as was “the Queen of Comedy” and “the Female Chaplin”), best known for a series of films co-starring Arbuckle and a very public dalliance with cocaine and other illicit drugs, including bootleg liquor (it was, after all, the height of prohibition); Margaret “Gibby” Gibson, a struggling actress and two-bit scam artist who fell out of favor at the major studios after being arrested for prostitution in 1917, the first of the many scandals to hit the industry over the next six years (she tried to reinvent herself by trimming five years off her age and calling herself Patricia Palmer… she was marginally more successful); Mary Miles Minter, a teenage beauty touted as the “next Mary Pickford,” with an all-consuming schoolgirl crush on Taylor; Charlotte Shelby, a bullying stage mother who had forbidden her daughter, Mary, to see Taylor and threatened Taylor, telling him to keep away from her meal-ticket. Most of the circumstantial evidence suggested that Mary Minter’s mother was the guilty party, a fact exacerbated by a district attorney seemingly protecting her at every turn in the case. As much as the life and foibles of William Desmond Taylor are laid bare here, Mann, likewise, does his due diligence in uncovering even the minutest detail in the lives of these four remarkable women; no stone is left unturned.

TINSELTOWN (Margaret Gibson) (publicity photo)

TINSELTOWN (Margaret Gibson) (publicity photo)

Other candidates included Edward Sands, Taylor’s former valet, who was fired for forgery and other indiscretions (some believed Sands had been blackmailing the director, who’s secret life – lives, actually – would have destroyed him and embroiled the studio in another scandal); Don Osborn, “Blackie” Madsen or any of the other two-bit thugs and confidence men that “Gibby” took up with in her never-ending effort to be “somebody,” which to her, meant someone with an endless supply of cash; an unknown drug dealer that Taylor threw out of Normand’s house after the man tried to sell dope to the recovering addict; one of the many religious zealots who saw Taylor’s life and work as morally abhorrent. Some of the suspects were dismissed out of hand, particularly the cute, little eighteen year-old, Mary Minter, because… well, who ever heard of a little girl killing someone? Others were investigated and cleared, including the first suspect, Taylor’s then-current valet, Henry Peavey; that scenario seemed to make the most sense initially, as Peavy had a record (for soliciting young men for sexual purposes… not only was that illegal, it was “send-a-guy-to-Hell” immoral) and, of course, he was black.

TINSELTOWN (Mary Miles Minter) (publicity photo)

TINSELTOWN (Mary Miles Minter) (publicity photo)

As Mann relates all of the available information, peeling away the layers of cover-ups, lies, innuendo and downright fiction, he breathes life into the long-dead bones of, not only Taylor, but everyone related in any way to the concentric circle of his influence. Obviously, there is much more to this story than I’ve related here; my job is to pique your interest about the book without giving everything away. Any fan of the silent film era, of historic insights into the years leading up to the dawn of what became known as “the Roaring ’20s,” or of a good old murder mystery will find much to like about TINSELTOWN. It would have been very easy to turn this story into a boring, sterile thesis, offering the facts and nothing but the facts in a very precise, analytical fashion. But, then, who would want to read something like that? Certainly not me! Thankfully, William J Mann understood that and, without ignoring evidence and substance in favor of literary glitz, has written what is generally referred to as a “page-turner.”


FIELD OF LOST SHOES

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/BOSCH MEDIA/TREDEGAR FILMWORKS/BROOKWELL-MCNAMARA ENTERTAINMENT (95 minutes/Rated PG-13); 2014)

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I am a Civil War nut! I love reading and studying about the era. It is, without a doubt, one of the few truly defining moments in this country’s history. The events leading up to the bloodiest conflict in America’s relatively young past divided the Republic along, not only ideological lines, but territorial lines, as well. As the Southern States began to feel the economic pinch from the Northern States over – among other things – tariffs for their goods, states’ rights of sovereignty and slavery, plans were formulated for their secession from the Union. As has been well documented through historical records, in many instances, the actions taken on both sides of this divide led to fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins and best friends facing each other from different sides of the battlefield.

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Sean Marquette, Nolan Gould, Luke Benward, Max Lloyd-Jones, Parker Croft, Josh Zuckerman) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Sean Marquette, Nolan Gould, Luke Benward, Max Lloyd-Jones, Parker Croft, Josh Zuckerman) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

Over the years, there have been some really well made movies about the Civil War (SHENANDOAH, starring Jimmy Stewart, has been a long-time favorite) and some fairly crappy ones (okay… here’s where you get out your torches and pitchforks and chase me through the woods… GONE WITH THE WIND immediately comes to mind); FIELD OF LOST SHOES is poised to take its place as one of the best films ever about one of the worst times in American history. The film follows seven of the 257 cadets (all between the ages of 15 and 24) from the Virginia Military Institute forced into active service on May 11, 1864 and into the action at the Battle of New Market on the 15th. The Confederate commander, Major General John C Breckinridge (a brilliantly understated and tortured performance from Jason Isaacs), was loathe to use the cadets but, when reinforcements didn’t show up in time, he reluctantly sent them forward. Breckinridge gave orders to the VMI’s commanding officer, Captain Chinook (a character portrayed by Courtney Gains and who is, apparently, a composite of Colonel Scott Shipp and Captains Frank Preston and Henry A Wise, among others) to keep the cadets at least 300 yards behind the main force but, the might (and accuracy) of the Union’s artillery prompted the cadets to fill a hole in the Confederate lines, coming into direct musket and cannon fire.

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Sean Marquette, Parker Croft, Luke Benward, Josh Zuckerman) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Sean Marquette, Parker Croft, Luke Benward, Josh Zuckerman) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

Even though the creative team (headed by director Sean McNamara, of SOUL SURFER fame) went to painstaking lengths to be accurate (studying the few existing official records, as well as diaries and journals of some of the participants), with a movie based on an actual event, there are certain aspects added to the story – especially one that occurred more than 150 years ago – to enhance the entertainment factor. The fact that these enhancements meld seamlessly with the truth go a long way in making FIELD OF LOST SHOES the riveting film it is; the Captain Chinook character is a prime example. The movie opens in 1858, as Governor Henry Wise and his twelve year old son, John, are discussing events of the last several days, including John’s trip to Philadelphia with his mother, where they took in the play, UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. Virginia’s chief executive wonders why the boy has not said anything about the play; “Because I do not agree with it,” comes the reply. The Governor, not holding to the precepts of slavery and well understanding his son’s true beliefs, takes John to a slave auction. He sends his child in to the “market” alone, hoping that he may better understand the true impact of trafficking in human lives, treating them as property, lower than even the animals of the field. In a heart-wrenching scene, a family is brought to the stage… a mother, a father and several children; the father, who had been hobbled with a broken leg, pleads with the “masters” to keep his family together. With the mother bringing only $400, the auctioneer asks the buyer if he will take the entire family; he says that he can’t really afford to feed the one he just bought and has no need for the husband and children, telling the mother, “You can have more children.” Young John Wise has his eyes opened as the devastated family are brutally ripped apart; their lives and his are forever changed.

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Jason Isaacs) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Jason Isaacs) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

The movie moves ahead in time five years, with John (Luke Benward) now a cadet at the prestigious Virginia Military Institute. From this point forward, the film focuses on Wise and his “band of brothers,” five fast friends – as diverse as the nation that spawned them – and a new cadet, a “rat,” as they were (and still are) called, whom they take under their collective wings, saying that forevermore, he will be known as “Sir Rat.” As the political rhetoric and the war intensify, we are privy to the inner turmoil brought to bear on these seven young men and, indeed, the entire populace of the VMI, including its instructors and staff. They are torn between their commitment and pledge to the United States military and their allegiance to their home, the Commonwealth of Virginia… a scenario that was actually played out from the very top of the Federal government to the ranking officers of the country’s military to the farmers and businessmen throughout the land, including its territories to the west. This conflict of conscience and loyalties is nowhere played out as well as a particularly touching and telling four minute scene where Breckinridge, the former vice president of the United States, meets the seven cadets on the eve of the battle. I don’t usually quote a lot of dialogue from the films I review, but this exchange is so well done and poignant that I can’t help but quote it nearly in its entirety.

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (David Arquette) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (David Arquette) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

After asking the cadets to sit, Breckinridge tells them, “Well, the purpose of this little visit is because it’s my fault you’re here. In many ways, it’s my fault that everyone is here in this valley, because when I was vice president, I tried to solve this problem and I could not. Now, good men from the North and South will die here and I will have some difficult decisions tomorrow, some of which may involve you.” He asks for the cadets’ thoughts on the war and their future plans. Jack Stanard (Zach Roerig), young Wise’s nemesis before the order to march, offers his opinion first, “We find ourselves invaded by a conquering army who I must consider foreign invaders. Defending our homeland is an imperative and I can’t understand anyone who thinks otherwise.” Next, cadet Thomas Garland Jefferson (a descendant of President Thomas Jefferson, played by Parker Croft) sums up the feelings of many of the landed gentry of the south: “My family’s owned a plantation for close to a hundred and fifty years, so I’m defending my heritage and my future. But, that ain’t the whole of it. I believe folks of a certain class have a heavy responsibility. We must use our position to see that the common folk among us are cared for.” In a line that could have been quite condescending, Isaacs’ quiet, unassuming Breckinridge replies, “Well, we common folk sure do appreciate that.” Sam Atwill (Max Lloyd-Jones) eloquently states the feelings of most men in any war: “I think war is stupid and cruel and nowhere near as necessary as those leading the fighting like to tell themselves,” to which the General asks, “I see. And do you think I can negotiate my way out of this tomorrow?” Pausing for reflection, the cadet answers, “No. Not anymore. We will stand with you and fight.” Sir Rat, the freshman cadet Robert (a fine performance from MODERN FAMILY’s Nolan Gould), tells Breckinridge, “I will fight Grant’s bullies, sir. I tell everybody that I’m going to be a farmer but, if Mister Wise will let me, I’d like to help him be governor.” “My family and my home were burned,” relates the quiet, reflective Benjamin “Duck” Colonna (Sean Marquette), “I’ll kill as many blues tomorrow as God permits, sir.” Sir Rat introduces Moses Ezekiel (Josh Zuckerman) as a “genius artist” before Moses tells him, “I would like to try my hand at sculptor.” Ezekiel’s statue, “Virginia Mourning Her Dead,” a memorial to the VMI cadets who fought in the Battle of New Market (of the 257 called up, 10 were killed and 47 wounded), sits on the academy’s campus. General Breckinridge’s final thoughts to the group relate his feelings about the situation he has put these young men in and the belief that there is a better day coming: “I know that you must be afraid and I know because I am afraid… This war will end, I swear to you and you boys… you are the future of this country and having met you, the future will be bright.”

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Nolan Gould, Zach Roerig, Max Lloyd-Jones) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

FIELD OF LOST SHOES (Nolan Gould, Zach Roerig, Max Lloyd-Jones) (photo courtesy: BOSCH MEDIA)

The film is filled with many equally poignant moments, maybe none more so than the sight of Sir Rat and the VMI’s black cook, “Old Judge” (Keith David in a memorable role), sifting through the mud and the dead, collecting the shoes that were lost in the battle. You see, like the movie, the place where the cadets met the Federal forces is known as “the field of lost shoes,” because several days of nearly torrential rains had turned the area into a muddy morass and many on both sides sank up to their ankles in the sucking ground, losing their shoes as they advanced. One chilling scene, as the cadets charge the Union artillery positions, sees the infantry defending the position realize, “They’re just a bunch of damn school boys! Kill ’em all!” The battle scenes are especially well done, not pulling any punches in showing the brutality of long-range cannon and musket fire, as well as vicious hand-to-hand combat. In the background of a scene at a “field hospital,” a home where the wounded and dead are brought, you get a glimpse of a surgeon amputating a wounded man’s leg. The entire film is beautifully shot and masterfully staged; pay close attention as the cadets are marching toward the Shenandoah Valley and John Wise meets the gaze of a very familiar face. Heck, even the prerequisite love interest is well done (with Mary Mouser as the coy Libby Clinedinst), though, inevitably, as we know from the start, doomed. Aside from the young stars, you can look for Lauren Holly as Libby’s mother; Tom Skerritt as a particularly grizzled Ulysses Grant; and former World Championship Wrestling heavyweight title holder, David Arquette, as Union Captain Henry A DuPont. FIELD OF LOST SHOES is rated PG-13 and the only concern I would have for letting kids under 10 or so watch is the very real looking battle sequences and, especially, the resultant battlefield carnage. While not centered on one family like the aforementioned SHENANDOAH (and not as melodramatic), the film is every bit as touching and heart-wrenching in its depiction of the Civil War and far more historically accurate.


PHOBIA

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/RLJ ENTERTAINMENT/QUIET BOX PRODUCTIONS (84 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

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I have an extremely high level of tolerance for creep; the new movie, PHOBIA, has creeped me out more than anything I’ve witnessed… and that includes the nearly four minutes of KEEPING UP WITH KARDASHIANS I accidentally saw when my remote’s “channel up” button wouldn’t “channel up.” Now, I have to live with the image of that Bruce Jenner chick every time I close my eyes! As disturbing as that was, the nightmare inducing images of Rory Douglas Abel’s directorial debut full-length film should easily over-ride that.

PHOBIA (Michael Jefferson and Sandra Palmeri) (publicity still)

PHOBIA (Michael Jefferson and Sandra Palmeri) (publicity still)

Agoraphobic Jonathan MacKinley (portrayed by a disturbingly believable Michael Jefferson) hasn’t stepped out of his house in over a year, since the death of his wife; he wanted to go to a party, she wanted to stay home; he drank and insisted that he was fine to drive home after the party. In his impaired state, he didn’t see the car that ran the red light and struck the passenger side of his vehicle (although, I suspect something more sinister… probably involving that ‘stache). Since that time, the only people that he’s had actual physical contact with have been his best friend, Taylor (Andrew Ruth), his therapist, Doctor Edmondson (Peter Gregus) and a grocery delivery person. Early in the story, Taylor phones MacKinley to let him know that he’s found a new delivery person, a young woman named Bree (Emma Dubery). MacKinley’s tenuous grasp on reality has been eroding quickly of late, as the solitude takes its toll via frightful dreams and macabre visions, blurring the line between his reality and his horrible fantasies. (On the surface, this whole scenario may seem highly improbable; however, I can say from family experience, that this is quite plausible: I had a cousin… a cousin that I never met. She suffered from agoraphobia and had locked herself in her home, pulling all of the blinds. The only people she would allow in was a sister and a daughter. The years of separation from the outside world had a negative effect on her mental health, including the belief that her life was in constant danger. The delusions were very real.) And, so, back to our regularly scheduled review…

PHOBIA (Emma Dubery and Michael Jefferson) (publicity still)

PHOBIA (Emma Dubery and Michael Jefferson) (publicity still)

MacKinley, fighting against his own sanity, opens up to Bree, allowing an intimacy that he hasn’t known since the death of Jane (Sarah Schoofs, who generally appears in all of her post-autopsy glory… uh… gore). As the visions and dreams become more frequent and more realistic, MacKinley places an emergency call to Doctor Edmondson, putting into motion a chain of events that, while expected, are, nonetheless, very disturbing. In a wonderfully twisted move, Abel (who is also co-writer, with Matthew Barnes) introduces enough elements to the story to open up the possibility that MacKinley’s psychoses may actually be the work of a malevolent entity (appearing in his waking nightmares as “the Shade,” played by Sandra Palmeri). That’s one of the theories that the individual viewer will have to accept or discard on their own.

PHOBIA (Michael Jefferson and Sandra Palmeri) (publicity still)

PHOBIA (Michael Jefferson and Sandra Palmeri) (publicity still)

The movie, like most indie flicks, is not without its problems, chief among them being the particularly stilted acting from Jefferson in the first few scenes of the story; of course, this could all be his take on the phobia and dementia that is overtaking his life. As that dementia progresses, Jefferson’s acting becomes more natural and… more manic. The fact that the majority of the story takes place within the confines of a cramped, dark brownstone only adds to the creepiness, allowing us to – in a fashion – experience MacKinley’s torturous life. Working in such a small area may not be most movie-makers’ ideal situation but, this tale would not have worked under any other circumstance. The set and the lighting is dark and claustrophobic, making the few moments of bright light (usually seen when Bree or Taylor enters the home) seem like searing shards of metal boring into your cerebral cortex. If PHOBIA had been Abel’s third or fourth film, these aspects would be considered outstanding film-making from an experienced hand; with it being his first, these choices point to a visionary of phenomenal potential in the horror/thriller genre. Personally, I can’t wait to see what he has planned for us next. Oh, yeah… for whatever reason, the package art has absolutely nothing to do with the story. Just sayin’.

PHOBIA (Sarah Schoofs and Michael Jefferson) (publicity still)

PHOBIA (Sarah Schoofs and Michael Jefferson) (publicity still)

Please be aware that PHOBIA features graphic scenes of violence and gore, as well as, nudity. This film is not for the weak of heart or for anyone younger than fifteen or so. It will definitely have you looking over your shoulder and under your bed for a day or two; but, then, that’s why we like it so much.


EASY STREET (THE HARD WAY): A MEMOIR

(Ron Perlman with Michael Largo; 297 pages; DE CAPO PRESS/PERSEUS BOOKS GROUP; 2014)

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I’ve always liked Ron Perlman’s quirky choices of roles… especially HELLBOY. His voice is immediately recognizable, with a depth of emotion and a sonorous quality that defines the man every bit as much as his character studies… maybe more. When I saw that he was writing his memoir, I was stoked to wander around through the noodle of one of the most adventurous actors of the past 35 years. I wasn’t disappointed with the journey. Well, not much.

SONS OF ANARCHY (Ron Perlman) (photo credit: Prashant Gupta/FX)

SONS OF ANARCHY (Ron Perlman) (photo credit: Prashant Gupta/FX)

Like many of us, Ron Perlman grew up in a home where the Dad went above and beyond to give his kids the kind of life that he didn’t have; like many of us, Ron Perlman was not an exceptional child and was bullied and abused at school; like many of us, Ron Perlman’s parents made him a better person (not just a more successful person); like many of us, Ron Perlman has taken what he learned from his parents and made a better life for his children. Unlike most of us, Ron Perlman did everything in front of the world. The story he tells is poignant, funny and irreverent; it’s the story of a young kid dealing with a nearly crippling lack of self worth and how, as an adult, he has learned to live with – even embrace – these feelings of inadequacies.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Ron Perlman, in costume, with co-star Linda Hamilton) (publicity photo)

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Ron Perlman, in costume, with co-star Linda Hamilton) (publicity photo)

A young Perlman was infected by the acting bug in high school when, as a member of the swim team, his coach picked him to try out for the school play because they needed bodies and his body wasn’t getting a lot of time in the water at swim meets. In college, he was offered an internship as a production assistant with a very, very off-Broadway company that would occasionally take their show on the road. Ron was on the road when his girlfriend and his cousin came to deliver the word that his father had died; he immediately went home to help his mother with his older brother, a man incapacitated by manic depression (years later, at 39, Les Perlman committed suicide). So, like his father before him, Ron Perlman put his dreams and aspirations on the back burner because that’s what families do. All of this is told in a forthright, warts-and-all narrative in Ron’s inimitably… uh… flowery turn of phrase.

SONS OF ANARCHY (Ron and Opal Perlman at the 2011 season premiere) (uncredited photo)

SONS OF ANARCHY (Ron and Opal Perlman at the 2011 season premiere) (uncredited photo)

Perlman (ably assisted by Michael Largo) is fearless in his assessment of his career (and, for long spans of time, lack thereof). When he was cast in the 1981 movie QUEST FOR FIRE, he was certain he was on his way to being a household name; his next job didn’t come until three years later, when he was cast in the STAR WARS spoof, THE ICE PIRATES. That has seemed to be Ron’s career trajectory: A defining moment in front of the camera followed by long lulls when the actor was doubting his choice of career followed by a job he would take to put food on the table. He seemed to be getting typecast in an odd sort of way, also; as varied as most of his early roles were, nearly all of them buried Ron’s face in makeup and prosthetics, including his next big role, as Salvatore in THE NAME OF THE ROSE. The role that defined him for quite a few years, Vincent in the highly successful CBS television series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, was one he told his agent to pass on because he was tired of his face being an artist’s canvas for four hours every day. When things weren’t happening in front of the camera, Perlman started getting work behind a microphone, doing voice-overs and cartoons.

PACIFIC RIM (Ron Perlman with director Guillermo del Toro at the 2013 premiere) (uncredited photo)

PACIFIC RIM (Ron Perlman with director Guillermo del Toro at the 2013 premiere) (uncredited photo)

A life-long working relationship and friendship was formed in 1992 when Ron was told that a guy named Guillermo del Toro wanted him to star in a movie called CRONOS and was anxious to meet the actor. As fate would have it, that meeting led to the two working together several more times, including BLADE II, PACIFIC RIM and, of course, HELLBOY and its sequel (another is rumored to be in the works). His work as the lead character in the HELLBOY movies directly led to his being cast in the FX series, SONS OF ANARCHY. Guillermo has had a great calming effect on Ron, helping him to keep his feelings of inadequacy in check (Perlman has been diagnosed with clinical depression, a lesser form – though equally as debilitating – than his brother suffered from). The other calming effect in his life has been his family; he’s been with his wife, Opal, since 1976 (they married in 1981) and they have two kids, Blake and Brandon. Opal was by his side through some of the leanest of Perlman’s lean years and continues to be a solid pillar for him to lean on. When he speaks of Opal and his children, you can tell he has a deep and abiding love for his family and an undying respect for the woman who has stayed with him through thick and thin.

HELLBOY (Ron Perlman in make-up and costume to fulfill a MAKE-A-WISH request, 2012. This is why we love you, Ron) (publicity photo)

HELLBOY (Ron Perlman in make-up and costume to fulfill a MAKE-A-WISH request, 2012. This is why we love you, Ron) (publicity photo)

EASY STREET (THE HARD WAY) is a wild ride through the life of one of Hollywood’s true characters and, as mentioned, Perlman does not pull a single punch. The only problem I find in the book is in the final two chapters, in which Ron does the standard Hollywood political stance thing. I’m not gonna tell you which side I come down on as regards the last few residents of the White House, but I do find it disingenuous and more than a little unfair to label everyone who didn’t vote for our President a racist; I don’t agree with that assessment. I think my real objection here is that, unless I’m reading a biography or autobiography about a political figure, I don’t particularly want to read about someone’s political leanings. Nothing personal… I feel the same way about political statements coming from the stage of a nightclub, too… or from the pulpit. It seems to me that a celebrity making their political thoughts known is well on the way to alienating half of their audience. And, with Ron Perlman, that would be a shame because I believe that he really is one of the good guys.


HOUSEBOUND

(XLRATOR MEDIA/SEMI-PROFESSIONAL PICTURES (111 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

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So, you know those cute, little (occasionally out-of-context) blips in movie advertising that say “Wicked fun!” or some such exclamated proclamation exhorting you to spend money on whatever movie they’re hyping? Well, that one is mine… “Wicked fun!” and, the publicity people handling the horror/comedy flick HOUSEBOUND are more than welcome to add it to the ever-growing list of expletives regarding said flick. But, just like all of those other quotes about all of those other movies, that’s just one phrase plucked from an entire review about the film… I don’t think that the guy from TIME or ROLLING STONE could get away with a review that said simply, “Heart-stopping thrills!” or “Madcap murder and mayhem!,” although I would definitely go see whatever film the latter was tagging. But, I digress (regress?). Likewise, my review would have to be something a bit more substantial than “Wicked fun!,” even if that capsule statement sums up the matter rather effectively.

HOUSEBOUND (Glen-Paul Waru and Morgana O'Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Glen-Paul Waru and Morgana O’Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

After a string of bad decisions (the last one involving an attempt to purloin an ATM or, at the very least, the funds located within), Kylie Bucknell (sardonically portrayed by Morgana O’Reilly) is placed under house arrest. Here’s the catch: The house the judge remands her to for the next eight months is a musty old place occupied by her ditzy mother, Miriam, and befuddled step-father, Graeme… a place she hasn’t visited for a few years because, well, that’s where her ditzy mother, Miriam, can be found. Miriam (the gloriously over-the-top Rima Te Wiata) flits about the house and around Kylie like a hyperactive squirrel on speed (just let that imagery soak in for a bit), glad to have her errant child back home and continually fretting over her well-being; Graeme (a delightfully somnabulistic Ross Harper) just stands back, hoping that he is well out of the line of fire. Glen-Paul Waru appears as the bumbling tech specialist Amos, who is responsible for activating Kylie’s ankle monitor and running her to ground when the alarm goes off. Regarding said monitor, Miriam notes, “It’s such high tech, isn’t it? Aren’t you lucky, Kylie, having all that fancy technology on your foot?” You can understand why Kylie would rather have spent the eight months in a prison cell.

HOUSEBOUND (Morgana O'Reilly, Rima Te Wiata and Ross Harper) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata and Ross Harper) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Strange happenings are afoot in the house, as various electronic devices go haywire and electrical wiring and outlets are causing major disruptions to the trio’s way of life. Miriam, in typical fashion, is convinced that the house is haunted; Kylie, in typical fashion, is convinced her mother is insane. When a power outage sends Kylie to the basement to check for a blown fuse, a noise has her believing that someone has broken into the house; when she is grabbed by a skeletal hand, she is definitely starting to come around to her mother’s way of thinking. As it turns out, the incident damages the monitor, eliciting a visit from Amos, who is definitely down with the thought that a spirit or other-worldly entity may be causing the electrical problems at Casa Bucknell. Things get weirder as Kylie begins to dig into the history of the familial abode, discovering that, at one time, it was a “halfway house” for wayward teens (rather like a younger version of Kylie herself) and the scene of a brutal murder. As she becomes more immersed in the mystery, her court ordered therapist (Cameron Rhodes) shows up for their first session. Kylie, uncharacteristically, starts to open up to Dennis, the analyst and, naturally, the recurrence of unexplained activity heightens. From this point forward, the scares and the laughs come fast and furious, leading to a completely implausible ending that is as satisfying as any haunted house movie in recent memory.

HOUSEBOUND (Rima Te Wiata and Morgana O'Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Rima Te Wiata and Morgana O’Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

First time director (and scriptwriter) Gerard Johnstone has taken a pretty stale premise and given it a new car shine, with witty dialogue, an ingenious twist and brilliantly gloomy lighting. The chills are quite convincing; the relationship between Kylie and Miriam is, alternately, hilarious and very touching; the underlying mystery is as much fun to unravel as an episode of CASTLE or BONES. Of course, all of these, along with a great cast, make HOUSEBOUND wicked fun. (I bet you thought I’d forgotten that one, huh?)


THE DEVIL INCARNATE

(DVD and Digital; IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/RAVEN BANNER FILMS (76 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

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Do you guys remember a time when all of the bad things, scary things, dead things and evil things – pretty much all types of bad mojo – in movies were never really seen, just kind of implied? Those types of flicks tended to be scarier than the “leave nothing to the imagination” school of film-making that has controlled the movie screens since THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in 1974. While THE DEVIL INCARNATE does have a couple of fairly graphic scenes, it is still, basically, a throwback to those horror and thriller movies that forced you to use your imagination. The individual’s imagination can be far more nightmare-inducing than watching that nightmare played out right in front of your eyes; that’s what makes those old treasures and, by extension, THE DEVIL INCARNATE, so much fun to watch.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Graci Carli) (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Graci Carli) (publicity still)

First time director L Gustavo Cooper (a military brat turned pro skateboarder turned producer of films about pro skateboarding) has given us a tense, violently psychotic mash-up of ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST, with liberal doses of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT thrown in for good measure. The story focuses on newlyweds Trevor and Holly (Rod Luzzi and Graci Carli), on their honeymoon in Florida and videotaping the experience as a keepsake. Most of the movie is of the “found footage” variety, taking the videographer’s perspective, which makes the remainder of the scenes that much more effective. Tiring of to many hours on the road, Holly convinces Trevor to take a detour for a little sight-seeing adventure. They end up in a shabby, out-of-the-way little town where they are frightened by an apparent street junkie (Walter J Colson) who begins to babble about monsters and all types of misfortune ahead for the couple; he scares Holly, evoking the name of a local mystic – a fortune teller with immense dark powers. When Holly asks how to find the woman, the man says to “just follow the spirit.” Trevor laughs off the experience, certain that the guy was sending them to someone who paid him to deliver customers to her door.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Barbara Van Fleet) (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Barbara Van Fleet) (publicity still)

Undeterred, Holly is more determined than ever to visit the fortune teller (Barbara Van Fleet). After wandering about, not knowing their destination, their car dies… right in front of – you guessed it – the mystic’s house. The woman is bat-crap crazy and begins to scream and shriek in an unknown tongue, sending Holly fleeing out of the house. Trevor follows, holding an innocuous looking amulet he was examining as his bride ran out of the back room. The wild woman (witch, spiritualist, voodoo priestess… whatever) chases them outside with a dire warning about what has taken up residency in Holly’s womb. Following a harrowing health scare, Holly’s pregnancy is confirmed. The newlyweds arrive at their final destination: Trevor’s family home. With Trevor a few months away from fatherhood and his sister, Marissa (played to the hilt, with a wink and a grin by Emily Rogers), a few months away from college, the Davidsons have made the homestead a wedding present to the couple. Marissa, a snarky teenager with a penchant for the melodramatic and dark clothing (and, yes, I realize that I just described ninety-nine percent of America’s teenage population), becomes the linchpin of the narrative as she is given the responsibility of video-taping the planned baby shower and the events leading up to it. She discovers the forgotten amulet in a box of items destined for the attic for storage and, thinking it looks cool (and unwanted), she keeps it. Many of Marissa’s suspicions, fears and fantasies are brought to light through video chats with her friend (an even snarkier teen played by Bailee Bennett). She reluctantly confesses her attraction to her brother’s wife; she has secretly been videoing her dressing, bathing, having sex with Trevor.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (publicity still)

As the pregnancy progresses, Holly‘s physical health and mental stability begin to decline. She begins keeping to herself, missing meals and avoiding Trevor’s family. Marissa begins to notice the erratic behavior, which escalates at the baby shower: Holly is captured on camera grabbing her father-in-law’s crotch, then attacks her estranged aunt with a porcelain doll the woman brought as a gift. The next day, though they weren’t completely finished packing up their belongings, Trevor’s parents make a hasty exit, leaving Marissa behind to help out. Speaking with her friend, Marissa tells of the odd behavior; as the friend begins question her about Holly’s past, she realizes that she really doesn’t know anything about her. Once more playing the voyeuristic videographer, filming Holly soaking in the tub, Marissa is discovered. Rather than being upset, Holly seduces her but suddenly begins to intone the same weird phrases as the old mystic. The following day, Holly drives Marissa to check out a college. She begins asking her about her family, her maiden name and where she grew up, but when she shows Holly that she has repaired the broken porcelain doll, Holly begins acting strange – trance-like – and tries to push Marissa out of the car while moving at over a hundred miles an hour.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Emily Rogers and Rod Luzzi) (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Emily Rogers and Rod Luzzi) (publicity still)

With the new-found information, Marissa’s video chat friend delves a bit deeper into Holly’s past, discovering that she had been abused and raped in a foster home; she also finds a cryptic reference to the amulet. Things happen rather quickly from that point and telling you more wouldn’t be prudent. Suffice to say that the open-ended finish leaves a lot to the imagination… some would say, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered but, for me, that’s the beauty and the horror of the film. While it is unrated, I would be reticent to allow anyone under the age of sixteen or so to watch THE DEVIL INCARNATE. It is, however, a great way to spend an hour and fifteen minutes on a dark and stormy night… if you’ve got the stomach for such fare.


PLASTIC

(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT/GATEWAY FILMS (101 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

PLASTIC

To be quite honest, I was going to give this one a pass; on first blush, it just didn’t seem to be my particular cup of tea (either Raspberry or Cherry Vanilla… or, maybe, a simple English Breakfast Tea). To say the least, I was dead wrong. PLASTIC is a thrilling roller coaster ride of deceit, theft, violence, sex, drugs and a thumping electronic soundtrack. The film is based on (or inspired by) a true story but, then, aren’t they all?

The story revolves around four university con artists working a brilliant and seemingly flawless credit card scam. Ringleader Sam (played by Ed Speleers, who looks genetically produced from equal parts Eric Stoltz, Topher Grace and Rick Astley; he apparently, occupies an abbey located downtown) has gone to great lengths to insure the loyalty of his three co-conspirators (he hacked into their e-mails and used the information he found to either blackmail them or play on their sympathies). Fordy (Will Poulter), ostensibly, the group’s second in command, is the cool-headed realist, biding his time before he makes a move on Sam; Rafa (Sebastian De Souza) is a big dreamer stuck in a dead-end job; Yatesey (Alfie Allen, who stars in that one show about thrones) is the loose cannon, who would like nothing better than to excise Sam from his life (and, possibly, this earth). Yatesey and Rafa decide to freelance, attacking a man and stealing a briefcase in his possession. The owner of the briefcase, a gangster named Marcel (a delightfully evil Thomas Kretschmann), has gone to great extremes to protect his property, including placing tracking devices and cameras in it, which, of course, leads him (and two very large assistants) right to the boys’ lair (or dorm room, as the case may be). Marcel gives them until the end of the day to acquire a long list (about £60,000 worth) of items with their stolen card information, or else. They manage to fill Marcel’s wish list and discover that the “or else” is a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere. The lads make a deal with Marcel to obtain two million bucks in two weeks in exchange for their lives.

PLASTIC (Sebastian De Souza, Alfie Allen, Emma Rigby, Ed Speleers, Will Poulter) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Sebastian De Souza, Alfie Allen, Emma Rigby, Ed Speleers, Will Poulter) (publicity still)

That deal sends them looking for help. The help is a girl both Sam and Yatesey had previously met at a bar. Sam remembered that Frankie (Emma Rigby, who is a dead ringer for Jill Ireland… plus, the Red Queen looks really good in a bikini) works for a credit card company as a data processor in overseas accounts. Sam’s plan is to be empathetic to lure Frankie into the scheme; her father is very ill and the family is drowning in medical bills. Once the girl is on board, she tells the guys that the best plan would be to go to America because, according to her inside information, she knows of several high-budget card holders that spend a lot of time and plenty of cash in Miami. So, using other people’s money (as they have since the beginning of the story), they head for the sunny beaches of Florida. Infighting, mistrust, jealousy and greed are at work, eroding the plan virtually from the time they land in Miami; The two low men on the totem pole, Yatesey and Rafa, plot against Sam, looking to get their fair share; initially, the plot takes the form of Yatesey using one of the fake cards at a strip club after Sam specifically tells the team to be careful how they are used. Of course, when the card is refused for “suspicious use,” the junior partners (including Fordy) run afoul of several very large bouncers.

PLASTIC (Emma Rigby) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Emma Rigby) (publicity still)

From that point, things take a decidedly dark turn. As more and more people and ancillary businesses are drawn into the conspiracy, an international noose begins to tighten around the throats of the five thieves as police and Marcel seek justice in their own ways. From the scene in the strip club, the crosses and double-crosses begin to stack up, eventually pitting too rival criminal cartels against each other, with Sam’s team squarely caught in the middle. Hilarity, as they say, ensues. To say more would be undermining the purpose of this review, which is to get you to watch (purchase) this movie. Let’s say that the climax of PLASTIC is a thrill-a-minute, action-packed and wholly implausible ending… but, then, it based on a true story.

PLASTIC (Graham McTavish and Malese Jow) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Graham McTavish and Malese Jow) (publicity still)

The R rating is for the violence, strong language, some nudity and drug use. Though it does drag in some parts, the payoff is definitely worth the price of admission. Bonus points are awarded, by the way, for the casting of Malese Jow (she plays Beth, the secretary and arm candy of one of the sleazier business-types that gets sucked into the scam). The role is small, but Malese has a way of commanding every scene she’s in. The DVD has a “Making of… ” special feature which is quite entertaining in its own right. The producers briefly interview a man named Saqib Mumtaz who, in 1997, was a member of the fraudulant group the film is based on; I would guess that, from the interview, the character of Rafa was based on Mister Mumtaz. Overall, a great movie, though you may wanna keep it away from the kiddies.