SCREAMS IN THE NIGHT: THE KATIE KEENE INTERVIEW

Katie Keene (publicity photo)

Katie Keene (publicity photo)

Every generation needs its “Scream Queen,” a pretty young lady destined to be set-upon by various creeps, ghouls, monsters and demonic beings in horrific movie after horrific movie. Katie Keene is working very hard at being this generation’s version of the frightened survivor of such horrendous happenings, appearing in a slew of horror flicks including LOST LAKE, UNION FURNACE, the new CLOWNTOWN and the upcoming hospital torture film, INOPERABLE. In a recent interview, Katie discussed her craft, her favorite Halloween memories, her very real case of coulrophobia and her INOPERABLE co-star, the reigning Queen of Scream, Danielle Harris. Strap in, boys and girls… Katie Keene is an up-and-coming talent who is really gonna play on your fears.

THE MULE: Okay… first things first, give us a quick synopsis of CLOWNTOWN and tell us a little bit about your character, Jill.

KATIE KEENE: So… CLOWNTOWN… a little killer clown action for you. A couple of friends go to see a concert, they kinda get lost along the way and end up in this really small town full of killer clowns. Jill is a friend that’s going with the rest of her buddies. You know, couples date. And, she gets stuck with the rest of her buddies in this terrible town… of killer clowns.

THE MULE: You do a lot and I mean… a LOT of screaming in this film. Did you ever lose your voice during your oxygen-depleting, throat-mangling, near-operatic performance?

KATIE: My big screaming scene in CLOWNTOWN, that was a tough one. I have a space that I go to and I sit in this space on set. I’m there way before we’re filming, sitting at that tree, just zoning in… I just kind of sit in the environment and… sorta let that get to me emotionally and, buddy, when I’m directed to scream and to not stop screaming, that’s what I do. I just bring everything I’ve got. I give everything my little body can give. And, when I do it, I’m physically exhausted after but… I never lose my voice. So, that’s kinda cool.

THE MULE: So, you’re physically exhausted, but that must take an emotional toll on you, as well.

KATIE: Absolutely… it does. It’s really a lot of work. I’ve made a couple of horror movies and horror movies are hard to make. They take a lot out of you emotionally. There’s so much screaming, there’s so much high emotion and, when you’re in high emotion like that every day for a month or however long, it works on you… it works on your body, it takes a toll on you. My body is literally giving everything I can to the role. That’s what I love to do.

THE MULE: You mentioned that you’ve been in a couple of horror movies before CLOWNTOWN. So, what really frightens you?

KATIE: Well, that would be those filthy clowns! Clowns are my biggest fear in all the world and when they had… When I took this role, I didn’t know it was about killer clowns. When Tommy, the director, asked, “Oh, you want to be in a movie?” So, yeah… after I booked the role, I was so excited and then he said, “But, we have to let you know… it’s about killer clowns!” I was so taken aback and was a little speechless because I have a legit fear of them. As a young girl… I suffer from terrible nightmares and ever since I was a young girl, I dream about clowns. I’m SO scared of them. It’s crazy to be thirty years old and be afraid of clowns, you know. That’s a real fear that I have and it took me a minute to really check in with myself to see if this was something I could do and I was just like, “You know what? It could be the greatest acting I’ve ever done ’cause I’m not gonna be acting… I’m really going to be scared!”

THE MULE: Oh, yeah… you gotta watch out for those killer clowns! I don’t trust any of them!

Katie Keene on the set of CLOWNTOWN (uncredited photo)

Katie Keene on the set of CLOWNTOWN (uncredited photo)

KATIE: Oh, no! Gosh, aren’t they just so terrifying?

THE MULE: So, aside from CLOWNTOWN, what’s coming up for you next?

KATIE: After this movie, actually with some of the same producers, I was… on another horror film called INOPERABLE. We’re finished filming now, but that’s my newest film coming up on the horizon. And that’s just now having a trailer come out and starting to get a little buzz from that. Then, continuing my day-to-day actor life here in LA, you know, auditioning for all kinds of different things day-to-day and working on the craft and seeing what you can land next. It’s kinda nice, ’cause I’ve got a couple films that are coming out around the same time. It’s really cool, especially with the Showmi and the Netflix. You know, I’ve got a couple movies on a couple of different things and people see the trailer for CLOWNTOWN and they go, “Oh, I’ve been a fan since LOST LAKE” or “I’ve been a fan since UNION FURNACE” or a couple other horror films I did… they’re starting to come out around the same time. It’s great for my career; people recognize me from a couple other very small independent horror films. It’s just so cool to be recognized, that people are watching some of these films. It’s just great!

THE MULE: Oh, absolutely. Now, INOPERABLE… I have seen the trailer for that one and, yeah… I guess that’s another thing that can be kinda creepy… hospitals.

KATIE: Absolutely. That hospital we filmed in WAS creepy. It was not a very fun hospital. It’s so neat what scares people… that’s what so fun about horror films – it’s like, there’s so many things you can make scary, you know, you can just play on peoples fears. I know,,, the fear of clowns is very common. There are so many people. And, fear of hospitals… people are scared of hospitals and there are just so many… so much opportunity to play off the fear of real people but… can I just say, it’s really fun!

THE MULE: Yeah, it is. I mean… people love to be scared.

Katie Keene is terrorized and tortured in LOST LAKE (publcity still)

Katie Keene is terrorized and tortured in LOST LAKE (publcity still)

KATIE: Yeah, they love to be scared! You know what? I like to be scared. Halloween is my favorite holiday. The scary haunted houses, they scare me. I mean, I know they’re actors… I used to act in them but, now, that’s what scares me – going to haunted houses. Horror films these days, I’m very critical. It’s very hard for me to find a scary movie that really scares me. I’m always like, “Bring it on! Bring me everything you got!”

THE MULE: I’m less than an hour away from Saint Louis and there are some really good haunted houses there. I’m talking world class haunted houses.

KATIE: Oh, absolutely! And, people will drive from all over to go to the real good ones. It’s crazy! It’s such an interesting thing that people just love to get the shit scared out of them!

THE MULE: You mentioned Halloween. It’s probably everybody’s favorite holiday… well, Christmas is up there, too. But, anyway, what is your favorite Halloween memory?

KATIE: Oh, wow… I’ve just got so many. You know, the Halloween I really liked, I was working in a haunted house; it was a couple years back. It was the Hollywood Haunted Hayride… I don’t know if you’re familiar with it but, they do big haunted houses here in LA. I was working that for Halloween one year and we just had a ball! It was just so much fun. That’s the most recent one that really sticks out in my mind. I always try to do something crazy for Halloween. A lot of Halloweens these days, I’m working. As a child, growing up, we always would dress up and trick or treat and then, when I got a little older, then started the pranks. I was always running around in camouflage, me and my buddies from school… we were big pranksters. So, every Halloween, everybody was going to get egged or pranked in some way. I had a lot of fun on Halloween growing up… always trying to scare people. I’ve got so many good Halloween memories.

THE MULE: Cool. I was just going to get back to INOPERABLE again. What is it like to work with Danielle Harris? She’s kind of a queen of the scream movies.

KATIE: Danielle… yeah, she sure is. Danielle was so great, such a big help to me, such a good friend to me, such a good mentor. She’s been working since she was three years old and now she’s kinda the big scream queen, you know, with HALLOWEEN. That’s what she does. We were so in awe… it’s always really neat when you grew up watching someone on television and then, a few years later, down the road, there you are working with them in a movie. A known movie. It’s always so great. She was just so very informative, she’s very professional. I love to watch her work, I love to watch her act and to hear her ideas and her thoughts. It was just so professional; you could just tell she’s been doing it her whole life. It was just great to see. We have a similar… She gave me a lot of great advice for my own career. She did a lot of horror films; I’m kinda… in that way, as well… doing a lot of horror films. She gave me great advice and had only nice things to say about my acting. She was like a friend and a mentor, too. I just loved her. She was amazing to work wth, so professional, so good at what she does… it’s second nature to her. It’s so cool to see people work that way, She’s a love, a friend of mine to this day. I really appreciate that. Just a lovely lady.

INOPERABLE (Katie Keene, Danielle Harris) (publicity still)

INOPERABLE (Katie Keene, Danielle Harris) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Awesome. We will be looking for that one and CLOWNTOWN is coming up soon. Thanks for the time and maybe we’ll talk again around the time INOPERABLE is released.

CLOWNTOWN

(MILLMAN PRODUCTIONS/STEEL HOUSE PRODUCTIONS/ZORYA FILMS (85 minutes; Unrated); 2016)

clowntown-final-dvd-art

This could very well be the first current events, topical horror movie ever made. It is released in the midst of a “Creepy Clown Mania” that has overtaken small towns from coast to coast; in many in rural areas, there are (mostly unsubstantiated) reports about children being menaced and stalked by people dressed as clowns. Personally, I think it’s all a magnificently choreographed – if terribly misguided (think Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS) – promotional stunt… maybe one intended to prepare audiences for CLOWNTOWN. Be that as it may, the Tom Nagel/Jeff Miller hack and slash is, actually, “Inspired by true events.” Apparently, October 2014 saw numerous armed people in Bakersfield, California dressed as clowns, scaring the populace at-large. I guess I missed that newscast… or, just maybe, living here in the middle of the country, I’m kinda used to seeing armed clowns at the corner store and at the family diner down the street. (Before a large contingent of angry townsfolk come after me with torches and pitchforks… that was a joke! Sheesh… why so serious?) Some of the situations our hapless heroes find themselves in call for a major suspension of reality on the part of the viewer, much like great hack ‘n’ slash movies of the past, like FRIDAY THE 13TH. That doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable for what it is: A Halloween movie meant to scare the crap out of you.

CLOWNTOWN (David H Greathouse) (publicity still)

CLOWNTOWN (David H Greathouse) (publicity still)

CLOWNTOWN begins – as most such stories do – with a preamble, a foreshadowing of the impending violence. A pretty blond babysitter (I would identify her as “Interchangeable Blond Rack 247,” but that would be demeaning and chauvinistic, so I won’t… the actress’ name is Kaitlyn Sapp, by the way) and her two charges enjoy a final swim before the kiddies’ bedtime; a foreboding mention of the sitter’s predecessor and random shots of clown-related knick-knacks inevitably lead to the… well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Fast forward fifteen years as four friends (played by Brian Nagel, Lauren Elise Compton, Katie Keene and Andrew Staton), on a road trip through Southern Ohio to a concert in Columbus, pull into a roadside diner to ask directions and use the facilities. A pair of workers (director Tom Nagel and Jeff Denton) sit at a window booth, one wanting to be on his way home and bemoaning the slow, leisurely manner of his friend’s eating style; remember them… they’ll be back later. Also adding to the (weird) local flavor is the county sheriff (Christopher Lawrence Chapman) and a leering old dude with lewd intentions (don’t worry about him, though, as he ends up dead in the next scene).

CLOWNTOWN (Chris Hahn, Lauren Elise Compton, Brian Nagel) (publicity still)

CLOWNTOWN (Chris Hahn, Lauren Elise Compton, Brian Nagel) (publicity still)

With directions for a shortcut offered by the Sheriff, the revelers are on their way. On the road once more, Mike (Staton) asks his girlfriend to locate the nearest gas station, but Jill (Keene) discovers her phone is missing. Sarah (Compton) calls Jill’s number in hopes of locating it; a male voice answers the call and directs the group to the nearby town of Clinton, promising to meet them there with the phone. The town seems deserted as the four head to the designated meeting place; after several frustrating hours spent waiting, the decision is made to abandon the phone for the time being and get back on the road to Columbus. The group returns to their vehicle only to find that it has been tampered with and won’t start; as the hood is closed, they finally see another person, a menacing looking man dressed as a clown and wielding a machete. The man disappears as Brad (Nagel) and the others approach. Desperate to be on their way, they begin searching for additional signs of life in the town and eventually run into Billy and Dylan, the two homeward bound workers from the diner, who have just had their own encounter with a clown. As notes are compared, the clowns return and Billy is… well, let’s just say that things quickly degenerate from that point. Heading into a suitably foreboding junkyard, the quintet is quickly reduced to a quartet as Jill is caught lagging behind the others; the hotheaded Mike is ready to confront the murderous clown horde, but is held at bay by the levelheaded leadership of Dylan (Denton).

CLOWNTOWN (Chris Hahn, David H Greathouse, Ryan Pilz) (publicity still)

CLOWNTOWN (Chris Hahn, David H Greathouse, Ryan Pilz) (publicity still)

That works out so well for the harried remnants of the little group that they find themselves surrounded, cowering in the husk of an old Winnebago until a grizzled citizen-in-hiding comes to their rescue – a variation on the whole “Follow me if you want to live” theme. Frank (Greg Violand) comes across as a stereotypical homeless psychotic, but once our heroes regroup in an abandoned warehouse, the truth about why he is the way he is comes to light. It seems that Clinton was once a thriving railroad stop, until a horrendous train wreck ruined the economy and turned the village into a virtual ghost town where the clowns imposed their own style of marshall law on the remaining citizens. Frank concludes the story by emphasizing, “Clowns own this town now.” Dylan says, “I heard rumors of clowns in this town, but I thought it was just bullshit to scare people. I heard it all started with some crazy, messed up family.” Looking away, Frank replies, “I don’t know nothin’ about that.” Which, of course, means… the clowns have discovered their hiding place and are on the hunt again. The sad thing about the whole predicament is highlighted at about the forty-four minute mark of the film, when Sarah tells Brad that she doesn’t really like Country music, anyway – had she made that fact known way back before the original foursome set out for Columbus, they would be safe at home, not running for their lives from a gang of homicidal Bozos (the killer crew are played by David H Greathouse, Ryan Pilz, Alan Tuskes, Beki Ingram and former WWE/WCW/ECW wrestler, Chris Hahn). But, then, what fun would that be for us?

CLOWNTOWN (Alan Tuskes; Katie Keene, Lauren Elise Compton; Beki Ingram) (publicity stills)

CLOWNTOWN (Alan Tuskes; Katie Keene, Lauren Elise Compton; Beki Ingram) (publicity stills)

So, anyway… with Frank and his new friends once again on the run, the clowns begin to exhibit certain preternatural – if not supernatural – abilities: Heightened agility, strength, speed and a high tolerance for pain among them. It’s also around this point in the flick that we finally get a glimpse of Jill’s fate; she isn’t dead, but she is being held captive at the clowns’ “compound.” The fact that she is still alive actually came as a bit of a surprise to me, even though the actual body count throughout the entire movie is startlingly low for one of this genre. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of gruesome scenes to keep today’s horror fan watching, just not a lot of people dying. After escaping from the clowns (and doing damage to at least one), Frank gives the others directions to find Jill, but along the way, they are set upon once more, as Brad is separated from Sarah and Mike. Now, well after dark, Brad sees lights on in a house; entering the home, he finds a woman (Maryann Nagel… that’s right, this low budget screamer is a family affair, with many a Nagel and Uncle Greg Voiland involved, either behind or in front of the cameras) with screws looser than Frank’s and, upon seeing a familiar picture on the mantle, begins to put things together. Meanwhile, Mike and Sarah are captured as they try to get help and removed to the clowns’ sanctuary. There really aren’t a lot of surprises left by this point, but getting to the end of the story is still a lot of fun… in a “brain-disengaged” sort of way. As I mentioned at the top of this review, CLOWNTOWN ain’t Shakespeare; it’s just good, cheap fun meant to scare the bejeezus out of you around Halloween time. Having said that, I must congratulate the writers for the humorous deaths of a pair of clowns in the last few minutes of the movie. For those who are interested in such things, the movie features a very HALLOWEEN-esque soundtrack. As far as parental warnings, there are more than a few very violent scenes, some implied bondage and one topless babysitter… kinda mild for a horror film nowadays, actually.

CLOWNTOWN is coming to DVD and Video-On-Demand on October 4, 2016… just in time for Halloween and your “Creepy Clown” or “Scream Queen” festivities.


REGRESSION

The much anticipated thriller from filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar makes its DVD and Blu-Ray – as well as digital and On-Demand platforms – debut on May 10, 2106. The film is set in 1990, as a Minnesota youth, Angela (Emma Watson), accuses her father of sexually abusing her as a child. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) investigates the girl’s allegations and becomes embroiled in tales of repressed memories and Satanic rituals. The palette of this movie is suitably dark and, like Amenabar’s genre-hopping classic, THE OTHERS, the twists and turns here keep you guessing. The plot features elements of horror, crime drama and psychological thriller all rolled into one, as first Angela, then her father begin to remember a past that may or may not be real. Hawke is at his brooding best as Detective Kenner, while the rest of the formidable cast (including David Thewlis) are swept along in his vortex. Watson is doing her best to move past her HARRY POTTER character, as she chooses roles that are far edgier than the sweet Hermione Granger. Just watching the trailer, I’m not sure this will earn her any new fans (or convince her longtime fans that she is anyone other than Hermione). Time… and a full viewing of REGRESSION… will tell.


SOME KIND OF HATE

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/CALIBER MEDIA/DESTROY ALL ENTERTAINMENT/REVEK ENTERTAINMENT (83 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

91AIQDiJXjL._SL1500_

Today’s version of the slasher movie is very rarely a nuanced thing; these flicks are more about the body count, finding unique ways to raise that body count, as well as making sure that a fair number of the bodies being counted are either scantily clad or completely unclad… there is generally no rhyme or reason for the slaughter, as the slasher (rather human, spirit, demon or other) just shows up and starts hacking. I’m not going to tell you that certain aspects of the genre are not here in spades with SOME KIND OF HATE but, the reasons are well-placed and well-thought-out. The writers (Brian DeLeeuw and Adam Egypt Mortimer co-wrote the screenplay) original concept and script was titled BULLIED, so there is much more of a message here than the usual “let’s go to the woods, get drunk and screw” mentality of one of these things. Obviously, bullying is a horrible problem pervading our society, particularly our school systems. It isn’t a new thing… there have always been older, bigger, richer, prettier, whatever type of people who feel a need to push and belittle those they deem to be beneath them; sometimes a bully is someone who is so insecure that they attack others just to feel good about themselves. The problem – and the symptoms – seems to be getting worse, with the number of victims rising daily. Even without the vengeful spirit aspect of this movie, the under-riding theme is enough of a horror story on its own merits. This ain’t no AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL or one of those “Very Special Episodes,” though… there’s too much blood.

SOME KIND OF HATE (Ronen Rubinstein) (photo credit BENJI BAKSHI)

SOME KIND OF HATE (Ronen Rubinstein) (photo credit BENJI BAKSHI)

The lead character, Lincoln, is your standard issue dark and brooding angst-ridden type… a quiet, artistic tortured soul who is abused at home and bullied at school (played to the quiet, brooding hilt by Ronen Rubenstein, who explained in a recent interview that, while he was never really bullied, one of his friends was bullied to the point that he committed suicide). Lincoln tries to stay out of the way of the big-man-on-campus, spoiled jock who delights in torturing those he deems too different (Lincoln is an “art fag” who doesn’t look or dress like everybody else); the loutish tormentor – his friends and hangers-on trailing behind like puppies – finds Lincoln alone and pushes the kid over the edge. Of course, when Lincoln retaliates, he is the one deemed a troublemaker and he is the one sentenced to a rehabilitation facility for teens with anti-social proclivities. The secluded “camp” is one of those “let’s get in touch with our feelings,” hippie psuedo-religious places for “troubled youth” that MAKE you wanna go all Jason Voorhees just to shut up the directors and counselors. The name of this place? Why, Mind’s Eye Academy, of course. There are the usual group of screw-ups and misfits, all stunningly beautiful, most with darker problems and secrets than the things that had them sent to the MEA; naturally, they have all learned to play the game and fooled the staff into believing they have assimilated. Lincoln is befriended by another newcomer, his bunk-mate Isaac (Spencer Breslin), a sorta boastful, obnoxious kid who ended up at the camp for “porn hacking” the computer system at his school. Everyone definitely is not copacetic with the new kid, though, as a tough named Willie (Maestro Harrell) and his goons start pushing Lincoln to see how long it will take before he goes crazy and attacks them. Ah… good times. Good times.

SOME KIND OF HATE Ronen Rubinstein, Grace Phipps, Spencer Breslin) (photo credit: BENJI BAKSHI)

SOME KIND OF HATE Ronen Rubinstein, Grace Phipps, Spencer Breslin) (photo credit: BENJI BAKSHI)

Lincoln finds solace and a kindred spirit in another societal reject, Kaitlin (played by Grace Phipps, a refugee from Disney, who starred in the tween-sation TEEN BEACH MOVIE and its sequel), a bad girl cheerleader whose coping mechanism was/is cutting; Kaitlin is another kid with a secret… she has first person knowledge of what bullying can lead to but, she doesn’t share with Lincoln until much later. After the third altercation with Willie and his minions, which sees Lincoln lashing out and hitting his tormentor, Lincoln is drawn to the basement of an old building, just to get away from everything and to get his thoughts together. Still enraged, he blurts out, “I wish they were all dead!” That phrase brings forth the spirit of Moira (another former Disney star, Sierra McCormick, who played the oddball genius Olive in a series called ANT Farm; she may also be remembered for her role as Lilith for a couple of episodes during season four of SUPERNATURAL, her only other appearance within the horror genre), a former student at the Academy; Moira was driven to suicide by the taunts and bullying of her peers and now seeks vengeance for herself and for other victims of bullying. Part of the appeal of such movies is discovering how and why violent things start happening, so I don’t want to spoil the fun for you; let’s just say, that soon after Moira’s appearance, Willie is found dead, with deep cuts all over his body and a razor blade in his hand. The first sign that things are not all sunshine and light at the Mind’s Eye Academy occurs as a sleazy sheriff’s deputy comes to investigate Willie’s apparent suicide: The deputy tells Krauss, the assistant director of the facility (Noah Segan), “It’s an hour drive – each way – every time I gotta come out here to pick up another dead kid.”

SOME KIND OF HATE (Sierra McCormick) (photo credit: BENJI BAKSHI)

SOME KIND OF HATE (Sierra McCormick) (photo credit: BENJI BAKSHI)

As the body count starts to rise, Kaitlin begins to think that Lincoln is the one killing the bullys; he tells her and Isaac about Moira but, Kaitlin has her doubts until she follows Lincoln back to the basement, where he confronts Moira and begs her to stop. Moira, once again feeling betrayed, tells the boy, “I’m yours Lincoln… and you’re mine.” Now a believer, Kaitlin seeks out Moira and the two bond over a bit of self-loathing and bloodletting, as the vengeful spirit recruits the other to help with the devastation. Now, I know that you guys are pretty sharp, so you’ve probably already guessed a lot about this movie that I didn’t share here, but… I think that there are still enough scares and more than enough buckets of blood to keep you engaged ’til the end. And, if you stick around, there’s a quick tease to let us all know that there will be a sequel. While the underlying current (bullying) is something that the kids should be made aware of, I’m going to suggest that you keep this one away from them until they’re sixteen, at least. The flick is available on DVD or Blu-Ray, as a digital download or Video-On-Demand.

I had the chance to speak to the star of SOME KIND OF HATE, Ronen Rubenstein regarding this movie and another project that will be premiering soon. It’s called CONDEMNED and is in select theaters on November 13. The movie also stars Dylan Penn as a rich kid, squatting with her boyfriend in an abandoned building. Unfortunately, we had horrible reception (he lost signal at least once), which means that I wasn’t able to save enough of our conversation to post the whole thing here. However, he did have this to say about CONDEMNED: “It’s funny, it’s gory; some scenes make you want to throw up, some scenes make you want to laugh.” You had me at “throw up,” Ronen. We’ll definitely be looking for that one soon. Until then, here’s the trailer:


TO PROTECT AND SERVE: THE DAVID KEITH INTERVIEW

PART ONE: THE INTERVIEW

David Keith (publicity photo)

David Keith (publicity photo)

So, the press release for the independent action flick AWAKEN shows up in my inbox and, I’m thinking, “Okay… the premise sounds promising but, I’m so afraid it’s gonna be nothing more than a distaff version of Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme.” But, then, the clincher… the movie features one of my favorite character actors, David Keith. And… he’s doing interviews! How could I possibly turn this one down?

Obviously, I couldn‘t and… I didn’t. So, before we take an in-depth look at the movie, here’s my conversation with actor David Keith. While Mister Keith may not really be as intense as many of his characters, he is nonetheless a passionate performer and a compassionate human being.

THE MULE: It’s a pleasure to speak to you. Since you’re on a little bit of a schedule here, let’s talk about AWAKEN and then a couple of other questions. How did you become involved in this project?

DAVID: The producer, Natalie Burn, is an old friend of mine and she asked if I would do her a favor and come play a small role in the movie.

AWAKEN (Natalie Burn, David Keith) (publicity photo)

AWAKEN (Natalie Burn, David Keith) (publicity photo)

THE MULE: You said “small role.” It is a rather small role but, in my mind anyway, fairly pivotal to the story.

DAVID: Yeah… you can’t really harvest organs without a surgeon.

THE MULE: Right. I didn’t wanna give anything away. I guess I shoulda read the back of the box… it may very well tell us what the bad guys are kinda up to. I got the feeling that, possibly, your character wasn’t so much into the way things were being done, but you were just there to help where you could.

DAVID: Well, all he’s washed up. He’s probably lost his license, he’s a drunk and he’s just trying to live out the rest of his days, making some money. But, he does want to do it right. If it’s going to be done, he certainly has given up on the moral question of what he’s doing but, he doesn’t want these kids brought in dead, ’cause then the organs die. He wants to harvest the organs while the person’s still breathing. Dead makes it a little worse; that makes his job work better… you take a live organ over somebody who’s dead or beaten up.

THE MULE: So, this whole thing… there are bad-assess wall-to-wall. I mean, from, I guess, former bad-asses to current bad-asses to future bad-asses… everybody just kinda comes in and pretty much kicks butt and worries about the fall-out later. It’s gotta be fun to work on something that’s almost wall-to-wall action.

DAVID: Well, of course, I represent the part where there isn’t much action. Most of the fighting and action that you see went on when I wasn’t on set. Now, there were some fight scenes shot while I was waiting to shoot my scenes, so I saw a couple of those things. I was only there three or four days and those were the days that they were shooting my scenes, which was a lot more dialogue. I was involved in the dialogue scenes more than in the action.

THE MULE: Okay. So, you didn’t get to actually partake, so to speak, of any of the bad-assery.

DAVID: Not really. No.

LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT (David Keith) (publicity still)

LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT (David Keith) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Speaking of which, I’ve gotta tell you that one of my all-time favorite episodes of LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT is the one that you played the character “Hawk.”

DAVID: Yeah… I was kind of hoping they would make a spin-off of that character.

THE MULE: Yeah. It could have been a recurring character or a spin-off.

DAVID: I did do another LAW AND ORDER after that but, it was CRIMINAL INTENT and a completely different character.

HEARTBREAK HOTEL (David Keith) (publicity still)

HEARTBREAK HOTEL (David Keith) (publicity still)

THE MULE: You have done… so many great things through the years and, I guess, what may be the ultimate chick flick, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN. Do you have any favorite roles or favorite movies or TV series that you’ve worked on through the years?

DAVID: Yes. My favorite role was Elvis Presley in HEARTBREAK HOTEL because I’m a frustrated rock star and I got to the singing myself, go into a recording studio and perform onstage. My two favorite television shows were THE CLASS, which was a sit-com, 2006 and 7 and that was just really a riot… an absolutely hilarious show that didn’t make it. And then, LONE STAR, which was probably the best writing of any project I’ve ever worked on… in any medium. And, that show… a few episodes on Fox and then it got yanked. It was brilliant. Basically, those were the shows that were pearls before swine, in my opinion. They were too smart for the average television audience.

THE MULE: That seems to happen a lot.

DAVID: Um-hm. It has to achieve a certain level of mediocrity in television if you’re going to be successful.

THE MULE: Maybe it’s because people just can’t commit to something like that. Know what I mean?

DAVID: They want to multitask. They need to be able to take phone calls while the show’s on or go get a sandwich. And, if it’s multifaceted and has any sort of depth or texture or tapestry to it, then it demands your full attention. If you make a television show that’s as good as a movie, you’re not gonna want to get up and go get your popcorn. That was the fate of both of those shows, I think. Too smart, too clever.

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (David Keith, Louis Gossett Junior) (publicity still)

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (David Keith, Louis Gossett Junior) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Too nuanced for their own good. So, where are you headed after this… after AWAKEN? Do you have anything else lined up?

DAVID: Well, I’ve had some minor medical issues that kept me out of show business for the past few months but, there’s always something around the corner. I’m enjoying being a Mister Mom.

THE MULE: That’s a completely different lifestyle, isn’t it?

DAVID: Right. I also work for a charity called National Association To Protect Children or protect.org. That’s basically what I do with most of my time now.

THE MULE: That’s great. I know you have another interview in a few minutes, so I’ll let you go. Just let me say that I like the movie… like watching the old stuff on TV or DVDs and I really appreciate your time.

DAVID: Alrighty. Thanks.

PART TWO: THE REVIEW

AWAKEN

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/7HEAVEN PRODUCTIONS/ARCHSTONE PICTURES (89 minutes; Rated R); 2015)

Awaken_2D

Billie Kope (played by Natalie Burn, whose most high-profile appearance to date is probably THE EXPENDABLES 3), on a search for her sister, who disappeared in Mexico, finds herself alone and very confused when she wakes up on the beach of a remote island. As she begins to regain her bearings, she is surprised by the screams of a frightened young woman; nearly walking to a trap, she is saved and befriended by a group of people who have also been kidnapped and transported to the island for some nefarious reason. This group is populated by a number of well-known character actors, including Phillip Tan (as Todd), Edward Furlong (as Berto), Augie Duke (as Chloe) and Robert Davi (as Quintin). As Billie soon learns, her abduction (and those of the others) are linked to a sinister group of black ops soldiers, who are seemingly hunting them merely for the sport of it. What’s really happening is an intricate organ harvesting operation involving – and you had to see this one coming – her sister, Kat (Chrisa Campbell).

AWAKEN (Natalie Burn) (publicity still)

AWAKEN (Natalie Burn) (publicity still)

The plot – a twist on the Richard Connell short story, “The Most Dangerous Game” – is one that’s turned up over and over again in movies, television (including an episode of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, with Rory Calhoun starring as “The Hunter”), literature and comic books but, with enough of a spin to keep it interesting. Aside from the actors already mentioned, the cast is filled with recognizable faces (if not names): Vinnie Jones as the ruthless black op leader, Michael Pare as his second in command, Jason London as the head of the organ harvesting cartel and Michael Copon as the love interest/hero of the piece. Daryl Hannah appears as Mao, a “customer” searching for a liver donor with the proper chi for her daughter; her performance is over-the-top and cartoonish, the one weak link in an otherwise solid cast. Conversely, David Keith, as Walsh, the disgraced doctor hired to perform the surgeries, gives a nuanced, believeable performance as he struggles with what his life has become and, ultimately, with saving as many lives as he can to atone for his past (and current) indiscretion. Miss Burn (who is also writer, producer, casting director, as well as doing her own stunts) is definitely easy on the eyes, kinda like a cross between Lucy Lawless and Juliette Lewis, only… softer.

AWAKEN (Daryl Hannah) (publicity still)

AWAKEN (Daryl Hannah) (publicity still)

The action sequences tend to work better than the rest of the story, especially the dialogue which occasionally borders on the soap-ish (as in operas). The one exception is the final shoot-out, which like Miss Hannah’s acting, comes across rather like cartoon violence (but, honestly… I do likes me some mindless cartoon violence). Having said that, AWAKEN does manage to engage and hold your attention; the actors are certainly nice to look at (with the possible exceptions of Jones and Daz Crawford as Stitch). The movie works equally well as an action/adventure dude’s night-in, as a chick flick or even as a date night feature. Some of the concepts may be to advanced for kids younger than twelve and the R rating is due to the violence. My recommendation? Suspend all semblance of believability and strap yourself in for a fun ride. AWAKEN is available in digital, DVD and Video-On-Demand.


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.


HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

(DVD and Video-On-Demand; WATERCOLOR ENTERTAINMENT/ARC ENTERTAINMENT (116 minutes/Rated PG-13); 2014)

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

A gentle, unassuming movie, HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS (production title: WATERCOLOR POSTCARDS) reminds me of those indie movies from the ’70s (THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS or any of those back-to-nature things) or one of those Christian movies that churches used to show to kids on a fairly regular basis where the quiet guy with the long hair and beard turned out to be Jesus. And, like most of those movies, one of the lead actors actually wrote the script, as well. Though there’s a horse present and the movie does have some definite spiritual overtones, wolves, bears and coyotes are all no-shows; likewise, the Savior is absent… at least in a physical manifestation.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS (Bailee Madison and Conrad Goode) (publicity still)

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS (Bailee Madison and Conrad Goode) (publicity still)

Alright… before this thing gets out of hand and even sillier, let’s just get back to HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS. This is a story about family. Specifically, it shows that family isn’t necessarily confined to a shared DNA. The story revolves around 10-year old Cotton (played by Bailee Madison, who played Selena Gomez’ younger brother for awhile in the Disney Channel series, THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE), who is the adopted daughter of a dying Texas town. Everyone watches out for Cotton just as she watches over her alcoholic mother (an all but unrecognizable Joan Van Ark, in a small but memorable role). Cotton is a dreamer; early in the story, she tells friend, neighbor and protector Butch (scriptwriter, producer and former New York Giants/Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman, Conrad Goode) that her Momma was going to Heaven and that everything was going to be okay because, “I saw it in my dreams last night.” Indeed, that night her mother died.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS (Laura Bell Bundy, Bailee Madison and Conrad Goode) (publicity still)

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS (Laura Bell Bundy, Bailee Madison and Conrad Goode) (publicity still)

The county sheriff is on hand, performing his sworn duty by collecting Cotton and taking her to be made a ward of the state. As he and Butch are debating the finer points of Texas law that say the best interest of the child must come first, Cotton’s older sister, Sunny (Laura Bell Bundy), a failed actress now living in Los Angeles, shows up to make peace and say goodbye to her mother. It seems that the hand-painted (by Butch) postcards that Cotton has been sending every day for several weeks had, indeed, reached her (physically, if not emotionally). Sunny discovers that she’s too late to say goodbye and the sheriff tells her that the girls’ mother had named Sunny guardian to Cotton: “You get Cotton; Cotton gets the house.” Sunny reluctantly agrees to accept guardianship of Cotton and, overwhelmed, takes to the bathroom and the bottle of pills in her bag. It would seem that whatever misery Sunny tried to run from had followed her to LA.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS (Conrad Goode, Laura Bell Bundy andBailee Madison) (publicity still)

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS (Conrad Goode, Laura Bell Bundy andBailee Madison) (publicity still)

As Sunny begins to settle in, her past, in the form of ex-boyfriend Jackson (Rhett Giles) comes calling, every bit as mean-spirited and belligerent as she had remembered. It seems that Jackson doesn’t mind inflicting a little bit of pain on the women he loves: He berates and demeans his current girlfriend, apparently, just for being there. As the story unfolds, we discover that Sunny’s problem with pills stems from a drunk-driving incident on a date with Jackson; he was driving, she injured her back and, as he so eloquently states, got “a cheap abortion.” Jackson and his father (a dastardly turn by Steve Eastin) are two of a kind: Jackson bullies and berates to get his way; his father, an unscrupulous bank owner, uses the law to get his way. Jackson manages a car dealership and hires Sunny to a janitorial position to reassert his dominance over her; Mister Morgan is foreclosing on a bar owned by the kindhearted Ledball (Jonathan Banks), a childhood friend of the girls’ mother, as well as making the sheriff order Butch to close down the roadside stand where he sells his artwork.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS (Bailee Madison, Conrad Goode and Laura Bell Bundy) (publicity still)

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS (Bailee Madison, Conrad Goode and Laura Bell Bundy) (publicity still)

Sunny, still planning to exit as quickly as possible, finds that she is beginning to care deeply for the little sister that she barely knows. She also finds herself starting to care about the soft-spoken, postcard painting, songwriting ex-football player next door. After Cotton hears Sunny sing, she has another dream that will save them, Butch, Ledball’s bar and the entire town of Bent Arrow. She then puts into motion a plan to get Sunny to sing and Butch to accompany her on guitar at a Fourth of July picnic, so Ledball will hire them to play at his bar. The plan is ultimately successful and a date is set for the duo to perform. A near tragedy cements the pair’s love for each other and they begin in earnest to prepare for their debut. As Cotton, Sunny and Butch are just beginning to find the happiness that has eluded them for so long, tragedy strikes again.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS (Laura Bell Bundy and Conrad Goode) (publicity still)

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS (Laura Bell Bundy and Conrad Goode) (publicity still)

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS is a family movie, but it isn’t a happy kiddie sort of affair; it’s rough around the edges, with some course language, a lot of drinking, some drug use and plenty of sexual situations. Those rough edges will keep the older kids and the adults in the family interested in the story and these very human characters; the gentle family scenes will keep the little ones involved. It is, ultimately, a story about the hope for something better, the triumph of family and unconditional love that isn’t limited to the bits of biological make-up that determines who your relatives are. The final half of this film is as gut-wrenchingly emotional as any family oriented movie since, maybe, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA. I would strongly advise that you don’t let the kids watch this one alone; pop some corn and curl up with them on the couch, at least for the first time through.


LULLABY

(DVD, Digital and Video-On-Demand; AVENUE PICTURES/ARC ENTERTAINMENT (117 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

LULLABY

I’m gonna let you guys into my life and my head and my heart for a little bit. I’m a sensitive guy… no, really, I am. Movies like this one touch me. I shed a tear or two watching LULLABY. Why? Good story, good acting? Partly, but the main reason is this: The underlying premise of the movie is something that is very near to me (I can’t say “dear” because… CANCER SUCKS!). In a span of approximately 10 years, I lost my father, my sister and my brother to cancer. My brother-in-law, a couple of beloved uncles and an aunt, too, during that same period; my sister-in-law succumbed to liver failure, as well. In the middle of all of that, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. I act as her caregiver… I’m the only one left. I watch her die a little bit more each day. I’ve spent far too many days in hospital rooms and funeral homes and I know that I’ve got more of both in my future. Look… I’m not complaining. I’m just using my experiences as a reference point for a review of the movie, LULLABY. Knowing these things may help you understand (at least a bit) where I’m coming from in regards to this film.

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund) (publicity still)

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund) (publicity still)

Garrett Hedlund leads a strong ensemble cast as Jonathan, the wayward son of a well-to-do family. LULLABY is a bitter-sweet coming-of-age story for Hedlund’s character. Jonathan is coming home after several years; his cancer-stricken father has decided to end his suffering. In short, the father (brilliantly played by Richard Jenkins) is – according to the statutes of the State of New York – committing suicide, with the assistance of his well-meaning doctor (Terrance Howard in a small role that amounts to no more than a couple of short cameos… what Howard does with those cameos speaks to the power of, not only his talents, but those of the entire cast). Jonathan reluctantly returns, telling his mother (Anne Archer), “He’s been dying for twelve years!” and asking, “Why is this time any different?” When she explains his father’s plan, Jonathan, enraged, storms out of the room. Taking refuge in the hospital’s stairwell, he lights a cigarette (he seems always to be getting into trouble for smoking in places where it’s prohibited… the film opens with him lighting up in the airplane restroom and, later, he walks into the hospital lobby and lights another smoke… both scenes are actually pretty funny) and practices a little primal screaming. He soon discovers, however, that he isn’t alone; a couple of flights above is a young woman who, like his father, is dying of cancer. Meredith (Jessica Barden) is a wise-beyond-her-years high school senior who hides her pain and fear behind a tough facade; when she asks for a cigarette, Jonathan gives her a look. “What? You gonna tell me that it’ll kill me?” Through his interaction with Meredith, the troubled musician is humbled and begins to look inward at who he is and what he’s become. There are several scenes between the pair that some may call “schlocky,” but they are so sweet and gentle that you can’t help but be touched.

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund, Anne Archer, Richard Jenkins, Jessica Brown Findlay and Daniel Sunjata) (publicity still)

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund, Anne Archer, Richard Jenkins, Jessica Brown Findlay and Daniel Sunjata) (publicity still)

Other key elements leading to Jonathan’s growing up involves an ex-girlfriend (another small but pivotal role, played by Amy Adams), his “I’m way too good for this” sister, Karen (Jessica Brown Findlay), who is struggling with her own demons. She files an injunction to stop her father from going through with his plans and comes unglued when he tells the family that he gave all of his money to charities and other causes. There’s a great scene where she comes clean to Jonathan, growing up a bit herself. The mother, Rachel, goes through several stages of grief, alternately being the strong woman holding the family together as she always has or completely falling apart, railing against the situation, her husband and God. One of Robert‘s last requests is to bring his family together for the traditional Passover Seder, performing the ritual early because he won’t be around at the Passover and because this is the first time in seven years that his whole family has been together. The scenes in the hospital’s chapel are powerful, heartwarming and… funny. You’ll understand when you watch. I should mention Jennifer Hudson as the in-your-face, tell-it-like-it-is nurse who first confronts Jonathan as he enters the hospital lobby, lighting a cigarette. She’s featured prominently in another heart-wrenching episode with Robert and Jonathan.

LULLABY (Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard) (publicity still)

LULLABY (Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard) (publicity still)

So, I know that I’m kinda skating around a lot of important stuff here, but I hate to be one of those guys that give away every detail of the movie. Ultimately, all I can do is recommend that you watch LULLABY with a box of tissues on hand. The subject matter and some strong language may be too intense for the young’uns, but it could open up a dialogue with junior high school aged kids (and older) who may be going through (or will eventually experience) similar situations. I told you at the top of this piece about my experiences. Obviously, they weren’t nearly as dramatic as those of the Lowenstein family, but they left there marks. LULLABY isn’t the type of movie that opens up old, painful memories; rather, it brought back some feelings that are really just under the surface: warm, happy memories of the people I love. And… okay… some sad ones, too. I honestly don’t believe that there’s a day that goes by that I don’t think about picking up the phone and calling my Dad or my sister or my brother. If you’ve lost someone close, you know what I mean. One of the most jarring aspects of LULLABY is Richard Jenkin’s make-up. As Robert becomes weaker and nears the end, there are moments when I could see my father’s face, sallow and small (he was always so much bigger than life to me), but with a peace that came from the knowledge that his pain and suffering was at an end and he was going home. That alone was worth the price of admission.


FROM A DARK PLACE: THE PAUL HOUGH INTERVIEW

PART 1: AN INTRODUCTION

The Human Race

The son of director John Hough, Paul Hough, like his father, has a rather dark palette from which he works. This rather frightening visionary focus has given life to some of the most depressing (and bloodiest) world views in the past decade plus. From the plight of a suicidal amputee in the music video, “The Enemy,” by Fozzy to the brutal reality of extreme backyard wrestling in THE BACKYARD to the new movie, THE HUMAN RACE, Paul has taken the universal themes of suffering and man’s inhumanity to man to new heights. Yet, in all of this pain and misery (and exploding heads), there is a subtle beauty that focuses on some of the more enjoyable aspects of the human condition. These aspects – unquestioning friendship, love, hope, belief in a higher calling, religion in all of its varying forms (Muslim, Christian, et cetera) – tend to make the grotesquerie more palatable… even enjoyable.

The school, the house, and the prison are safe. Follow the arrows, or you will die. Stay on the path, or you will die. If you are lapped twice, you will die. Do not touch the grass, or you will die. Race… or die.” That is the startlingly simple premise of THE HUMAN RACE. Eighty people, all who were unlucky enough to be occupying the same city block, are struck by a blinding white light (was it God? A priest, who is seen offering comfort to a homeless – junkie? – woman believes that they are in Purgatory) and transported to an undisclosed area and given the instructions above. Through two flashback vignettes, we meet three of the 80, survivors of their own personal hells: Veronica (Brianna Lauren Jackson), a young woman who has lost her family to a particularly aggressive form of cancer only to find out that she, too, has been stricken. She curses God for his cruelty. Flash forward to her doctor’s office where Veronica is told that her cancer is in total remission. She looks to the heavens and gives thanks, only to find herself a part of this macabre race; Eddie and Justin (Eddie McGee and Paul McCarthy-Boyington), two soldiers who meet for the first time on an Afghan field of battle. Eddie has, basically, been blown apart, his left leg is gone and Justin is determined to save him. Justin drags Eddie into a cave and using his own body, covers him to keep him warm until they can be rescued. Back in civilian life, they both work with underprivileged or disabled youth. Other “racers” include a pair of deaf friends (Trista Robinson and T Arthur Cottam), a Tour de France bicyclist (played by Cinderella drummer Fred Coury), a pregnant woman, the priest and homeless woman mentioned earlier, a Korean War (?) Marine vet with a walker, three vicious BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD types, a self-absorbed, Better-Than-Thou yuppie type, a young girl and her little brother… in other words, people from every walk of life, representing every facet of the social, racial, political and religious spectrum. Any more information than what I’ve already given would ruin the movie for you; let’s just say that, “THE HUMAN RACE takes more twists and turns than I thought possible for a film of this kind, especially one that runs less than 90 minutes.” The plot, script, acting and visuals all work together perfectly to present a stunningly moving look at the foibles and fallacies that make up the human condition. The following interview with writer/director/producer Paul Hough offers insights into his career, his journey to make this movie and the film itself.

PART 2: AN INTERVIEW

Director Paul Hough (uncredited photo)

Director Paul Hough (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: Hey, Paul, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about your new project.

PAUL: You’re welcome, Darren, it’s a pleasure.

THE MULE: So, let’s start at the beginning. Your father is famed director, John Hough, who had a penchant for the gruesomely horrible… maybe the only person to ever work for both the legendary Hammer Studios and Disney. How has his work influenced you, particularly in the making of this brutal new film, THE HUMAN RACE?

PAUL: My dad has a career that doesn’t focus on one particular genre but got those Disney films because of the horror movies he made. Disney wanted someone who could bring something dark to Disney. He taught me early on to make sure I said something when making a film, to have a point of view. Not necessarily overtly but to bring something that was me to it. He taught me also to try and make everything as interesting as possible when shooting and taught me how to cover things from the best and most unique angles.

THE MULE: This isn’t – so to speak – your first rodeo, but it is your first feature length, scripted endeavor. Can you give us the breakdown of your short films and the extreme wrestling documentary, THE BACKYARD?

PAUL: I did a short called THE ANGEL, which can be found on YouTube with Eddie McGee and Celine Tien (both from THE HUMAN RACE) and did a music video, also with Eddie, for Chris Jericho’s band, Fozzy (called “Enemy” – also online). In that, you can see quick glimpses of Fred Coury and Luke Y Thompson, who also appear in THE HUMAN RACE. I met Luke after he wrote a good review of THE BACKYARD (he is a film critic, currently working for THE VILLAGE VOICE). THE BACKYARD was about kids who wrestle in their backyards, using weapons such as barbed-wire baseball bats, staple guns and nails. The documentary focused also on their parents, who were more than often supportive and were high school teachers, principals, doctors and nurses.

THE BACKYARD poster

THE BACKYARD poster

THE MULE: THE BACKYARD is every bit as violent and as bloody as THE HUMAN RACE, but everything was real. Did that make things harder for you, knowing that these guys were really hurting themselves and each other? Did their brutality, in any way, affect the way you approached THE HUMAN RACE?

PAUL: It didn’t really make it hard because I wasn’t the one getting hurt. And they were going to be doing this whether I was there or not. While I was shocked at a lot of what I saw, I found it an amazing sub-culture which I enjoyed being immersed in. There was an incident in Modesto which was scary because these really tough guys (presumably from a gang) had seen some of the kids fighting in the street and lighting each other on fire – and were super unhappy about it. It was very unexpected and there was a lot of tension. I thought it could have got really ugly – but, luckily didn’t. And there was another incident in England, where a 15 year old blades and cuts himself with a razor blade. He wouldn’t stop bleeding as I’m doing the interview and it was hard then, as to whether I should keep filming – but I did, since there were other adults off-camera who attended to the situation. It’s funny – in THE HUMAN RACE, there is a lot of blood. And in THE BACKYARD there was a lot of blood. And the reality is, when I see someone bleed, it makes me ill. I hate the sight of blood in real life. But I was comfortable with the blood in THE HUMAN RACE because I knew it was movie blood, and comfortable with the blood in THE BACKYARD because it, too, seemed like movie blood to me because I was watching it from behind a camera.

THE MULE: You wear many hats for this project: Producer, director, writer… I understand that you even had a hand in the visual effects end of things. Do you have a favorite part of the creative process? How does writing for yourself differ from writing a script for another producer or director?

PAUL: I wore many hats out of necessity – not out of desire. If I had my choice, I would only direct. Maybe write and direct – but my main focus is on taking a compelling story and making it happen on camera. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, I had to produce this, edit this, do FX for this. I had to write something that was practical enough for me to shoot. When writing for someone else or for a budget, I think you have more freedom.

THE HUMAN RACE (Brianna Lauren Jackson) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Brianna Lauren Jackson) (publicity still)

THE MULE: The title of the movie works on – at least – three different levels. The first two are quite obvious from the beginning; the third is revealed in the final 15 or 20 minutes of the film, with a twist ending that kicked the whole thing up a notch for me. Without giving anything away, when you came up with the idea, did you start with one level and find that the others played well into what you wanted to say, or was it a simple case of coming up with a great play on words for the title and working from there?

PAUL: I started with the ending of the movie before anything else – and the knowledge that I wanted Eddie McGee in it. I think the idea of running then came next since I love to torture Eddie in everything we do together – and what better than to put him (a guy with one leg) into a marathon-type race. The title of the movie came then, as I was writing other aspects of the movie and just fit perfectly.

THE MULE: Aside from the obvious horror/sci-fi aspects of the film, there are also several underlying themes that are woven into the fabric of THE HUMAN RACE: Religion is a big one; racial and economic divides; sex, I guess, is unavoidable in any circumstance. Was the purpose of introducing these themes to draw the audience away from the larger theme, allowing for a greater impact at the end of the movie?

PAUL: A lot of the movie is from the characters’ points of views and you don’t really know where you are – along with them. They are people from all walks of life who express their different views. Certainly, because of the blinding white light it gave a path to introduce Christianity. Once I had that in – I wanted somewhat balance by introducing a Muslim. Overall, however, all of these themes and the conflict of these themes is both a reflection and representation of the human race and the struggles it has with itself.

Side note: one of my favorite critical reviews of the movie is this one: www.myhorribleidea.com/the-human-race-2013

THE HUMAN RACE (Gabriel Cullen) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Gabriel Cullen) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Making this movie was a very slow process. Can you take us through the various stages and give us a little insight into why it took so long to complete?

PAUL: It took over four years to make. We started to shoot for seven days, then stopped due to lack of money. A few months later, I saved up some more money, so we could shoot for two more days. Then we’d shut down again until I could raise more money – so months would go by until we could shoot for a few more days. I’d never recommend to someone they shoot a movie this way but… it was the only way I could get this movie done.

THE MULE: Given the time lapses between shooting, was it hard for you to maintain continuity? Most of the cast are adults, which may cause some small problems (weight change and the like), but there are two children who play small but important roles. How did you handle those growth spurts and physical changes that kids go through?

PAUL: The kids’ stuff wasn’t a problem at all – all of their stuff was shot at the same time. But otherwise, it was difficult, but I made all the actors responsible for their own continuity. There is one scene, however, that I had to shoot before I lost a location and Eddie’s hair was super short compared to the rest of the movie, so I had to shoot it from a super low angle just to disguise his haircut. It’s weird having to make choices like that – but when you’re making a movie you can’t anticipate or plan everything and have to adapt as you go along.

THE MULE: The set-up for the first death was ingenious. It was one of many unexpected swerves throughout the movie. It was so unexpected that I have to ask: Was it planned from the start or did other factors – scheduling and budget issues, perhaps – cause a change in direction?

PAUL: No, this was planned. I wanted a character that you really like – and then kill her off – in the same way Hitchcock killed off Janet Leigh in PSYCHO.

THE MULE: Obviously, with 80 people forced to participate in this “event,” you couldn’t possibly flesh out the character of each and every one but, the several that were more than just extras all seemingly had a back story, allowing the audience to identify each with a label: Hero, Villain, Victim. How did your vision of each main character play into the casting? Did any one audition cause you to rethink any of those roles and adjust the script accordingly?

PAUL: One of my favorite characters in the original script was a huge guy called the Blob. I just couldn’t find someone large enough for this role – and then when I did find an actor who was close – right before filming, he (inexplicably for the movie) went on a diet and… didn’t look like a Blob anymore. His part then got cut from the movie when he no showed on a particular day. That was incredibly frustrating but, again, is something I just had to deal with. I wrote the movie around a lot of actors I actually already knew and some were friends who started off as extras and then got promoted into bigger roles as the movie went along.

THE HUMAN RACE (Fred Coury and Paul McCarthy-Boyington) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Fred Coury and Paul McCarthy-Boyington) (publicity still)

THE MULE: One of the primary characters is played by Fred Coury. Even though you’ve worked with musicians before, on videos by the bands Pitbull Daycare and Fozzy (the latter also featured Eddie McGee), Fred is more out-front in an acting capacity here. How was he to work with? Was this his first acting gig?

PAUL: He was actually fantastic to work with – and a really amazing actor. Being a rock star, he has a great confidence that shows through on screen. After the shoot, he told me he had quit acting but I hope one day he’ll return to it.

THE MULE: You worked with Eddie McGee and Celine Tien, one of the youngsters, previously on the short, THE ANGEL. Were their parts for this movie written with them in mind or was it just a lucky coincidence that they both ended up in the cast?

PAUL: Both written with them in mind. In THE ANGEL, the Grandma was Celine’s real Grandma. In THE HUMAN RACE, her brother character is actually her real brother. I hadn’t seen her for a few years s,o while I wrote the role for her in mind – I still needed to audition her. Originally, there was only one kid in the script – but when she came to the audition, she turned up with her brother – who I thought was fantastic – so I made the role two kids rather than one.

THE MULE: Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with Eddie McGee, but when I found out that he was a cast member of the game show BIG BROTHER during its first season, I didn’t hold out much hope for this movie. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. The guy’s got chops… leading actor, action/adventure/sci-fi/horror chops. How did you become acquainted with Eddie and, based on a few things that I’ve read elsewhere, how did he become the “go-to” guy on your projects?

PAUL: Yeah, his being on BIG BROTHER has not been a good thing for his acting career. The only good thing is that he didn’t become a “reality star” per se – since his season happened before the whole reality boom. I’m hoping, going forward, that he’ll become Eddie McGee from THE HUMAN RACE and that his BIG BROTHER past will become that – a thing of the past. I met him while I was looking for a double-leg amputee for the Fozzy video. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to do the role – since most people found the character I wanted (ie: a disabled suicidal person) not suited for them. Eddie shared the same philosophy and beliefs of myself and taped an audition for me. He got the role and… I hope to work with him now on everything I do. He is an amazing actor and we’ve gone through a lot together. When you find someone as good and as brilliant as he – then he does certainly become your “go-to” guy.

THE HUMAN RACE (Trista Robinson) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Trista Robinson) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Speaking of projects, what’s next up for Paul Hough? In a bit of a spoiler, THE HUMAN RACE left itself open for a sequel. Will there be one?

PAUL: I’d love to do a follow up to THE HUMAN RACE and already have a script written – but it will depend on how successful this film is first. I’m off to Korea in a month, working on a new dark thriller which I hope will be my next project…

The film debuts in limited theatrical release and on Video-On-Demand and iTunes on June 13, 2014. Comparisons to the apocalyptic Japanese bloodbath, BATTLE ROYALE and the Young Adult book/film series, THE HUNGER GAMES (among others) are unavoidable but, THE HUMAN RACE is, in my humble opinion, not to be missed.