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Bernie Wrightson R.I.P

It was just over a month ago that Liz Wrightson announced that her husband, legendary artist Bernie Wrightson was retiring. Liz confirmed on Sunday that after a long battle with cancer, Bernie has passed away. Here is the full transcript from Liz. My condolences to the Wrightson family, Rest in Peace Bernie.

A Message from Liz Wrightson.

After a long battle with brain cancer, legendary artist Bernie Wrightson has passed away.

Bernie “Berni” Wrightson (born October 27, 1948, Baltimore, Maryland, USA) was an American artist known for his horror illustrations and comic books. He received training in art from reading comics, particularly those of EC, as well as through a correspondence course from the Famous Artists School. In 1966, Wrightson began working for The Baltimore Sun newspaper as an illustrator. The following year, after meeting artist Frank Frazetta at a comic-book convention in New York City, he was inspired to produce his own stories. In 1968, he showed copies of his sequential art to DC Comics editor Dick Giordano and was given a freelance assignment. Wrightson began spelling his name “Berni” in his professional work to distinguish himself from an Olympic diver named Bernie Wrightson, but later restored the final E to his name.

His first professional comic work appeared in House of Mystery #179 in 1968. He continued to work on a variety of mystery and anthology titles for both DC and its principal rival, Marvel Comics. In 1971, with writer Len Wein, Wrightson co-created the muck creature Swamp Thing for DC. He also co-created Destiny, later to become famous in the work of Neil Gaiman. By 1974 he had left DC to work at Warren Publishing who were publishing black-and-white horror-comics magazines. There he produced a series of original work as well as adaptations of stories by H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. In 1975, Wrightson joined with fellow artists Jeff Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith to form “The Studio,” a shared loft in Manhattan where the group would pursue creative products outside the constraints of comic book commercialism. Though he continued to produce sequential art, Wrightson at this time began producing artwork for numerous posters, prints, calendars, and coloring books.

Wrightson spent seven years drawing approximately 50 detailed pen-and-ink illustrations to accompany an edition of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, which the artist considers among his most personal work. Wrightson drew the poster for the Stephen King-penned horror film Creepshow, as well as illustrating the comic book adaptation of the film. This led to several other collaborations with King, including illustrations for the novella “Cycle of the Werewolf,” the restored edition of King’s apocalyptic horror epic, “The Stand,” and art for the hardcover editions of “From a Buick 8” and “Dark Tower V.” Wrightson has contributed album covers for a number of bands, including Meat Loaf. The “Captain Sternn” segment of the animated film Heavy Metal is based on the character created by Wrightson for his award-winning short comic series of the same name.

Characters he worked on included Spiderman, Batman and The Punisher, and he provided painted covers for the DC comics Nevermore and Toe Tags, among many others. Recent works include Frankenstein Alive Alive, Dead She Said , the Ghoul and Doc Macabre (IDW Publishing) all co-created with esteemed horror author Steve Niles, and several print/poster/sketchbooks series produced by Nakatomi.

As a conceptual artist, Bernie worked on many movies, particularly in the horror genre: well-known films include Ghostbusters, The Faculty, Galaxy Quest, Spiderman, and George Romero’s Land of the Dead, and Frank Darabont’s Stephen King film The Mist.

Bernie lived in Austin, Texas with his wife Liz and two corgis – Mortimer and Maximillian. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, John and Jeffrey, one stepson, Thomas Adamson, and countless friends and fans. A celebration of his life is planned for later this year.

Brimstone

Wrongly accused of a crime she didn’t commit, a frontier woman turned fugitive is hunted by a vengeful preacher in the menacing inferno of the old American West.

At 149 minutes long, Dutch director Martin Koolhoven’s (Winter in Wartime) first English-language film is a beast—and that’s only where the Biblical references begin. The neo-Western stars Dakota Fanning as Liz, a woman on the run from her reverend stepfather (Guy Pearce), a self-described false prophet, or “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” on the American frontier. It’s a world wrought with dour religiosity, where primal impulses bubble just beneath the surface, and God is evoked as an excuse to stoke the fire.

Divided into Biblical chapters titled “Revelation,” “Exodus,” “Genesis,” and “Retribution,” Brimstone takes us through Liz’s journey in reverse, showing us the brutal abuse she endured at the hands of her Calvinist and chauvinistic stepfather and the twists and turns her life takes as she tries to elude him.

Check out the interview re-posted below with Director Koolhoven conducted by the No Film School website. Discussion surrounds some of the film’s nearly unwatchable scenes, his rigorous process of screenplay revisions, and his successful attempts to maintain creative control on a daring, provocative film. Looks interesting…

No Film School: This is a very dark story told with an exacting vision. Why did you decide Brimstone was a story that needed to be told?

Martin Koolhoven: The last movie I did was quite successful, and it sold very well across the world, especially in Holland. Of course, Hollywood started calling. They sent scripts and nothing that they sent I found interesting. So at some point, somebody said, “You know, Martin, what would you want to do?” And I joked, I said, “You know, I would like to do a Western.” This was before Tarantino had even announced Django Unchained. It was completely dead, Westerns. And, sort of jokingly, I said, “Westerns.” And then I started thinking, “Why not?”

Koolhoven: So I decided to started writing one, and then I started thinking, What is it actually that I’m interested in here? Why is it such an interesting genre? There’s this almost boyish quality to it, this adventure and artistic idea of freedom. But then, as I was thinking that, I thought, that’s a very macho approach. It’s only a half-truth because for women, Westerns are not actually about freedom all. I had just read a book called In the Rogue Blood by James Carlos Blake about two brothers, and at some point, the sister runs away and they say, “Okay, what are her options? Either she’s going to marry someone or she’s going to be a prostitute.” And that sort of hit me. I realized that that side of the story is never really told. There’s not a lot of movies about that. Actually, none at all. Then I thought there has to be a movie from that point of view.

I was intimidated by the fact that some of my favorite movies are Westerns. I said, “How am I going to do something that is original and has a place?” And I thought the only way was to make it personal and to use my culture and heritage. I come from Holland and, of course, a lot of the settlers were Dutch. The Calvinistic belief is something that has had a very strong impact on our culture. Some people at the time thought it wasn’t strict enough anymore in Holland, so they went to America to start a purer form of Christianity. That’s something I had never seen in movies. I was brought up Protestant, so that’s something that I could relate to. It was like a hybrid between American culture and Dutch culture. The female angle of this whole religious thing is where Brimstone sprouted from.

NFS: It’s a very strong script, especially in terms of intentionality; every piece of dialogue serves a function. Can you tell me about the writing process?

Koolhoven: I had never done an international movie; I had only done Dutch movies. The reason I got access to people like Dakota Fanning and Guy Pearce and Kit Harington was the script. The moment we put the script on the desks of all the agents, they started calling us. “Could he or she be in the movie?” If you have a strong script, that’s where everything comes from.

When you’re writing, don’t be afraid of ambition; you have to be as ambitious as you can be. Making a good movie starts with really, really wanting to make a good movie. Do not accept mediocrity, even from yourself. You have to raise the bar. You have to be very tough on yourself.

If you have a good first draft, get people in to read it who you think are very good. I got authors that I thought were very good and I got them to read the script. I put them [in a room] when I was not there, and I put somebody who I know I in with them so that they could be as tough as they wanted. They’re always going to be polite if you’re there. I let them discuss and see what interesting stuff [came] up. Then the person who was there reported to me. So if you have a new draft, get other people in and listen to them.

Of course, on the other end, you have to be stubborn enough to not listen to everything. But you have very honest. Very often, you [already] know what the problems are in a script.

NFS: Once you had the script, how did you cobble together financing? 

Koolhoven: We didn’t get any money from Hollywood. It was financed in Europe. I did get American talent, so we did have to deal with Hollywood agents and all that. But we chose to have financing in England, in Holland, in Germany, in France, in Sweden. It’s a lot of countries combined. In the end, I think there were more than 35 different financiers on this movie, which is hell for a producer because you have to juggle all those balls in the air and have them all be happy.

I knew it was going to be a controversial movie. It has a lot of powerful stuff: it talks about religious fanaticism and combines it with violence and sex. So that’s a very dangerous cocktail. We knew that this is something that you have to keep control of—you have to have the final cut. Otherwise, they’ll take it out of your hands and you’re not going to make the movie that you want.

NFS: Can you remember any specific instances where you were fighting for creative control?

Koolhoven: Well, I knew in advance that it was going to be a long movie. That’s not something that a lot of distributors and money people like. I knew that if I had no control, they would want to make it shorter.

The other thing is that, of course, there are controversial scenes in it. Nowadays Hollywood actually uses a lot of violence, but it is very often comical. I wanted it [to be real] because the movie is about the consequences of violence and the poisonous role that it has in the world and in life. So there are some scenes that are very uncomfortable, and that’s what I was striving for. I wanted to portray violence not necessarily in a cool way.

People get scared of that. People are very often afraid of demanding things from their audience. And this is a movie that is, at some points, quite demanding. There are some tough scenes in there that need to be told for the story. If you only go to the movies to have a laugh, then you’re not going to have a good time with this movie.

NFS: How did you approach shooting some of those uncomfortable and demanding scenes?

Koolhoven: There’s a misconception nowadays, especially with the interpretation of method acting, that the toughest scenes to watch are also the toughest scenes to shoot. That’s not necessarily so. If there’s a very tough scene, everybody always comes in very prepared and knows that this is going to be a difficult scene. Somehow, these scenes are very often the ones that are not the hardest things to do. It’s often scenes you don’t expect that are difficult from a technical point of view.

NFS: The film’s imagery is a bit different than what you might expect from a Western—it’s more poetic, more like a painting. How did you communicate your vision?

Koolhoven: I knew I wanted it to be a very visual movie and I knew that I wanted strong images. It’s something that’s conscious and thought about.

I communicate that by any means necessary. I use music, I use paintings. I have a bible where I put everything. As you are writing, you do a lot of research. There’s a lot of stuff that you go and check out, whether it’s on the internet or in books, so I put that all into a document that I felt was relevant for my crew. It had a lot of imagery in it. By the time we went into production, it was a “bible.”

NFS: Can you remember any other specific challenges, in terms of production, and how you overcame those challenges?

Koolhoven: We shot this movie for… I think, in dollars, it would be about 15 million or so. If I had done this in America, it would be, I think, three or four times as much. I was extremely ambitious. I didn’t want to give in. So there were so many challenges. Every day was a long day. We went overtime constantly. There was constant pressure. I felt very strongly about this movie and I wanted it to be exactly the way I had it in my head.

The toughest thing was getting everything that was on the paper to the screen. That was the toughest thing.

 

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Bill Paxton R.I.P

bill-paxton-near-dark-vampireThe actor Bill Paxton, who was 61, has died due to complications from surgery, according to a statement from a representative of Paxton’s family.

“A loving husband and father, Bill began his career in Hollywood working on films in the art department and went on to have an illustrious career spanning four decades as a beloved and prolific actor and filmmaker,” read the statement, in part. “Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable.”

That warmth earned Paxton a career that began in B-movies, experimental film and music videos, moved through bit parts in big pictures and, ultimately, leading roles. The epitome of a working actor, he described to The Los Angeles Times his on-screen presence as that of “a very straight-looking guy, very old-fashioned.”

“I consider myself an everyman, and there will always be an underdog quality to my stuff,” Paxton told Cosmopolitan magazine in a 1995 interview.

Paxton often found a way to make these roles his own. One memorable moment? As Pvt. Hudson in James Cameron’s film “Aliens,” Paxton’s desperate, defeated whine after a spaceship crash became a catch-phrase: “Game over, man! Game over!”

Born William Paxton in Fort Worth, Texas, the actor was the son of a hardwood salesman and, he told “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross in a 2009 interview, expected that he’d follow the same path. But after taking theater classes in high school, Paxton made a decision to become an actor.

He relocated to Los Angeles when he was in his late teens. One of his first gigs was at New World Pictures as a set designer for famed B-movie producer and director Roger Corman on the Angie Dickenson movie “Big Bad Mama.” A year later, he acted in “Crazy Mama,” a New World production directed by a young Jonathan Demme.

The actor continued with set design gigs while making inroads in front of the camera. Early appearances included a starring role in “Fish Heads” (1980), a cult-classic novelty video for the music duo Barnes & Barnes, which Paxton directed and that aired on “Saturday Night Live.”

Paxton played a blue-haired punk rocker in an opening scene of “The Terminator,” a role that led to a friendship with director James Cameron and jobs in “Aliens,” “True Lies” and “Titanic.” Paxton’s acclaimed turn in “Apollo 13,” further confirmed the actor’s abilities.

He was fantastic as the trashy vampire in “Near Dark” scene stealing as the scary, and comic relief, Severin.

“Every day you’re taking a final exam as an actor,” Paxton told the late film critic Roger Ebert in 1998, while discussing his work in “A Simple Plan.”

As Hank in “A Simple Plan,” Paxton harnessed his average-Joe demeanor in service of a career-defining role alongside Billy Bob Thornton. After their two characters find millions of dollars in the woods, Paxton’s Hank endures hardships that reveal the ways in which good men can do bad things.

“I don’t play my characters with any judgment,” he told Gross. “I don’t think it’s possible to play any character with judgment.”

The actor carried that philosophy into one of his most notable performances, as Bill Henrickson in “Big Love.” As the polygamist patriarch, Paxton played a husband juggling family, work and spirituality — with three wives, a half-dozen children and a sect-wide family feud.

When “Big Love” concluded, Paxton told The Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara that he faced a hurdle. “It was the only steady job I’ve ever had as an adult,” he said. “But then nobody knew really what to do with me.”

As was always the case, though, Paxton found work. He earned an Emmy nomination in 2012 for the miniseries “Hatfields and McCoys,” and had a recurrent role in the TV series “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Paxton was starring as Det. Frank Rourke in the first season of the CBS series “Training Day.” The 13 episodes finished shooting in December, with nine still set to air.

CBS and Warner Bros. Television praised Paxton’s work in a statement issued Sunday morning.

It read, in part: “Bill was, of course, a gifted and popular actor with so many memorable roles on film and television. His colleagues at CBS and Warner Bros. Television will also remember a guy who lit up every room with infectious charm, energy and warmth, and as a great storyteller who loved to share entertaining anecdotes and stories about his work.”

Paxton is survived by his wife, Louise, and two children, James and Lydia.

Skinford – World Premiere

Directed by Nik Kacevski
Written by Nik Kacevski and Tess Meyer
Produced by George Kacevski, Tess Meyer, and Enzo Tedeschi
Starring Joshua Brennan, Charlotte Best, Coco Jack Gillies, Kaitlyn Boyé, Joshua Morton, Roger Sciberras, Ric Herbert, Georgia Scott and Diana Popovska

It was supposed to be so simple. You do a job, you make the meet, you get paid.

As an experienced flipper, Jimmy “Skinny” Skinford knows the protocol all too well. Having said that, being kidnapped and forced to dig your own grave will spanner the nicest of deals in the sharpest of ways.

But his fortune turns when a push of his dead man’s shovel unearths the opportunity of a life time; a woman, buried but still breathing, who just can’t seem to die. Her mysterious gift extends to others through touch and in her company Skinny launches head first into a scheme of unparalleled mayhem.

Coming face to face with the most depraved deviates of the criminal underworld, Skinny will have to pay his dues in order to make the meet, get his payload and have his chance at immortality.

But this gift horse comes with plans of her own, and dark consequences that threaten to sever Skinny’s world piece by piece.

Skinford will have it’s world premiere at Event Cinemas George Street, Sydney, on Sunday, March 12 at 7pm. Tickets available HERE

The Warriors – Roger Ebert Review

“The Warriors” is a real peculiarity, a movie about street gang warfare, written and directed as an exercise in mannerism. There’s hardly a moment when we believe that the movie’s gangs are real or that their members are real people or that they inhabit a real city.

That’s where the peculiarity comes in: I don’t think we’re supposed to. No matter what impression the ads give, this isn’t even remotely intended as an action film. It’s a set piece. It’s a ballet of stylized male violence.

Walter Hill, the director and co-writer, specializes in fables like this. His first two films were “Hard Times” and “The Driver,” and they were both at arm’s length from realism. Hill likes characters that take on a legendary, mythic stature, and then he likes to run them through situations that look like urban tableaux.

“Hard times,” a good and interesting film, starred Charles Bronson as a professional street fist-fighter who went up against opponents with all the dimension of a James Bond villain. “The Driver” didn’t even have names for its characters; they were described by their functions, and they behaved toward each other in strangely formal, rehearsed, unspontaneous ways.

“The Warriors” takes that style to such an extreme that almost all life and juice are drained from it; there’s great vitality and energy (and choreography and stunt coordination) in the many violent scenes of gang fights and run-ins with the cops. But when the characters talk, they seem to be inhabiting a tale rehearsed many times before.

One example: Three members of a street gang are lined up in a row. The camera regards the first one. He speaks. The camera pans to the second, and he speaks. The camera pans to the third. He speaks. Because the movement of the camera dictates the order and timing of the speeches, there can be no illusion that the characters are talking as their words occur to them.

This same kind of stiff stylization dominates the film. The street gangs take stances toward each other as if they were figures in a medieval print. The deployment of the police and gang forces is plainly impossible on any realistic level; people move into their symbolic places with such perfectly timed choreography that they must be telepathic. And the chase scenes are plainly impossible, as in one extended shot showing the Warriors outrunning a rival gang’s school bus.

All of this is no doubt Walter Hill’s intention. I suppose he has, an artistic vision he’s working toward in this film, and in his work. He chooses to meticulously ban human spontaneity from his films; he allows only a handful of shallow women characters into his stories; he reduces male conduct to ritualized violence. And in “The Warriors” he chooses, with a few exceptions, to cast against type: Only three or four of the movie’s characters look and sound like plausible street-gang members. The rest look and sound like male models for the currently fashionable advertising photography combining high fashion and rough trade.

All very well, I suppose, except that Paramount chooses to advertise the movie as a violent action picture — and action audiences, I suspect, will find it either incomprehensible or laughable. Walter Hill has a considerable visual skill, and he knows what he’s doing in “The Warriors” and does it well. But is this style suited to this material? And does Hill have other notes to play? All three of his films have shown a certain skittishness in the face of human juices and the unrehearsed flow of life. And so his street gangs, and his movies, walk lockstep through sterile streets.