Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Archive for December, 2011

Vernon Wells

Vernon George Wells (born 31 December 1945) is an Australian film and television actor who has built his career around action-type films, most often cast as a villain. He began appearing on Australian television shows in the mid-1970s, such as ‘Homocide’, ‘Matlock Police’ and ‘All The Rivers Run’. 

However, he is best known to most international audiences for his role of “Wez”, in the 1981 science fiction action film ‘Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior’. Wells was cast as the homicidal biker “Wez”, in the movie which was filmed around Silverton near Broken Hill in outback New South Wales, Australia. It is the role for which he is probably best known to international audiences, as Wells portrays a psychotic, post-apocalyptic gang leader who relentlessly pursues hero Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), before meeting a spectacular death during the film’s final cahse sequence. 

After Mad Max 2, Wells began appearing in Hollywood films, such as the military action film ‘Commando’ (1985) (as Bennett), which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the science fiction comedy ‘Innerspace’ (1987), which starred MArtin Short, Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid. In the 2000s, Wells acted in the television series ‘Power Rangers: Time Force’ portraying the series’ main villain ‘Ransik’.


Lloyd Kaufman

Lloyd Kaufman (born December 30, 1945) is anAmerican film director, producer, screenwriter and occasional actor. With producer Michael Herz, he is the co-founder of Troma Entertainment film studio, and the director of many of their feature films, including ‘The Toxic Avenger’ and ‘Tromeo and Juliet’. Kaufman also serves as chairman of the Independent Film & Television Alliance. 

Kaufman graduated from Yale University with the class of 1968, where he majored in Chinese studies. His Yale classmates included Oliver Stone and George W. Bush. Originally intending to become a social worker, he became fast friends with student filmmaker Robert Edelstein and Eric Sherman who introduced him to his future lifelong obsession, cinema.

Following his graduation, Kaufman went on to work for Cannon Films, where he met John G. Avildsen (future Academy Award winning winning director of ‘Rocky’ and ‘The Karate Kid’). The two collaborated for several years, making low-budget films. During this period, Kaufman also directed and starred in his second feature film, ‘The Battle of Love’s Return’, which garnered positive reviews in publications such as The New York Times, wrote and produced the lesbian thriller ‘Sugar Cookies’ (with Oliver Stone), and wrote and directed another film, the Israeli comedy flop ‘Big Gus, What’s the Fuss?’. Kaufman also served as executive in charge of locations for ‘Staurday Night Fever’, and was influential in choosing 2001 Odyssey as the nightclub in the film.

From 1973-1979, Kaufman produced and directed a handful of adult films in New York under the pseudonym “Louis Su.” He directed at least three movies: The Divine Obsession, The Newcomers, and Sweet & Sour, and has been credited for producing at least three more.

In 1974, Kaufman and his business partner Michael Herz founded Troma Entertainment and began producing and distributing independent action and comedy films. In order to pay the bills, Kaufman did some freelance work for major Hollywood productions, including Rocky (edited on Troma’s flatbed machines), Saturday Night Fever, and The Final Countdown, which he also produced. From 1979 to 1981, the two wrote, produced and directed a series of profitable “sexy comedies” including ‘Squeeze Play!’, ‘Waitress!’, ‘Stuck on You!’ and ‘The First Turn-On!’. On most of these early films, Kaufman is credited as “Samuel Weil.”

In 1985, Troma experienced mainstream success with the violent, darkly comic superhero film ‘The Toxic Avenger’. Toxic went on to become Troma’s most popular movie, inspiring three sequels, a Saturday morning childrens television show, comic books and tons of merchandise. The Toxic Avenger, or “Toxie,” is now Troma’s official mascot.

Kaufman’s follow-up was ‘Class of Nuke ‘Em High’, which he co-directed with Richard W. Haines. Riding on the success of the Toxic Avenger, Nuke ’em inspired two sequels and a healthy run on late night cable shows such as USA Up All Night. 

Troma’s popularity waned after the box office failure of ‘Troma’s War’; Kaufman attributed the film’s lack of success to cuts made to the movie after the MPAA refused to release it with an R-rating in its intended form. Troma’s attempt to reboot its popularity with the super hero satire ‘Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.’ was unsuccessful, failing to make an impression at the box office. From 1995 to 2000, Kaufman retrofitted the studio into an independent film company, finding success amongst cult movie fans and critics with the independent film ‘Tromeo and Juliet’ (1996), a loose parody of Shakespeare’s classic play. Other independent films that followed were the less successful ‘Terror Firmer’ (1999), a slasher film set on the set of a Troma movie (with Kaufman playing a caricature of himself), and the fourth installment in the Toxic Avenger franchise ‘Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV’. 

It would not be long, however, before Troma would once again experience financial hardship, this time after the botched funding of a low-budget video feature titled ‘Tales from the Crapper’, which cost $250,000 despite most of the footage being unusable. Lloyd supervised a reshoot in an attempt to salvage the film, dividing the footage into two parts and recasting the film as a double-feature. Tales from the Crapper was released on DVD in September 2004.

Troma still produces and acquires independent films. Troma Films has distributed many films from third parties including Trey Parker’s ‘Cannibal! The Musical’. Lloyd himself encourages independent filmmaking, making cameo appearances in low-budget horror films, often for free. Recent appearances include screen time in former collaborator James Gunn’s directing debut, ‘Slither’, as well as Gunn’s ‘Super’ and Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s ‘Crank’ and ‘Gamer’. 

Kaufman’s latest film, ‘Poultreygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead’, made its official New York premiere on May 9, 2008 (although the film had previewed numerous times on single screens for over a year). On its opening weekend, it had the second highest per-screen average ticket sales, and opened to positive reviews from Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times and was made a critics pick by New York Magazine. 

In September 2008, a staged musical version of The Toxic Avenger opened at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, directed by Tony Award winner John Rando.

Kaufman is the subject of the forthcoming book Toxic Schlock: Conversations with Lloyd Kaufman by Andrew J. Rausch and Chris Watson. An author himself, Kaufman has most recently been working on adding to his Your Own Damn Movie! series. Having completed Make Your Own Damn Movie!, Direct Your Own Damn Movie! and Produce Your Own Damn Movie!, he is now working on Sell Your Own Damn Movie!.

Kaufman is set to direct the upcoming ‘Toxic Avenger 5: The Toxic Twins’ and is also preparing for both the remake of ‘The Toxic Avenger’  by Akiva Goldsman, and the upcoming Father’s Day, a Canadian film which Troma is producing.


Kenneth Branagh on Thor 2

Here’s a cool fan poster for the forthcoming Avengers movie.

Also, director Kenneth Branagh spoke to Metro about the scheduling conflict that wouldn’t allow him to direct Thor 2:

I was proud of [“Thor”] and it was a lot of work, and it was a big risk for everybody — for Marvel employing somebody like me, for taking that character into a major film, for everything. So I was thrilled [the sequel] was being made. But it was happening so quickly. It was straight back in, and I needed time away from it, I needed to have a think. The third series “Wallander,” the TV series I do, was already on the cards, as well as a farce called “the Painkiller,” a play I did in Belfast — my hometown, very important to me — which I was in was in September and October. These things were already lined up, and it just wasn’t going to be possible to do all of them. It was a timing thing and a creative freshness kind of thing. And I wasn’t able to go straight back in and do the job that I knew that it deserved.


F. W. Murnau

Friedrich Wilhelm “F. W.” Murnau (December 28, 1888 – March 11, 1931) was one of the most influential German film directors of the silent era, and a prominent figure in the expressionist movement in German cinema during the 1920s. He was born as Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe in Bielfield, Province of Westphalia. He attended the University of Heidelberg where he studied art history. He took the name “Murnau” from the town in Germany named Murnau am Staffelsee. Openly gay, the 6’11 (210cm) director was said to have an icy, imperious disposition and an obsession with film.

Murnau’s most famous film is the vampire classic, ‘Nosferatu’, an 1922 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ for which Stoker’s widow sued for copyright infringement. Murnau lost the lawsuit and all prints of the film were ordered to be destroyed, but bootleg prints survived. The vampire, played by German stage actor Max Schreck, resembled a rat which was known to carry the plague. The origins of the word are from Stoker’s novel, where it is used by the Romanian townsfolk to refer to Count Dracula and presumably, other undead.

Nearly as important as Nosferatu in Murnau’s filmography was ‘The Last Laugh’ (“Der Letzte Mann”, German “The Last Man”) (1924), written by Carl Mayer (a very prominent figure of the Kammerspielfilm movement) and starring Emil Jennings. The film introduced the subjective point of view camera, where the camera “sees” from the eyes of a character and uses visual style to convey a character’s psychological state. It also anticipated the cinema verite movement in its subject matter. The film also used a mix of tracking shots, pans, tilts, and zooms. Also, unlike the majority of Murnau’s other works, The Last Laugh is considered a Kammerspielfilm with Expressionist elements. Unlike expressionist films, Kammerspielfilme are categorized by their chamber play influence, involving a lack of intricate set designs and story lines / themes regarding social injustice towards the working classes.

Murnau’s last German film was the big budget ‘Faust’ (1926) with Gosta Ekman as the title character, Emil Jannings as Mephisto and Camilla Horn as Gretchen. Murnau’s film draws on older traditions of the legendary tale of Faust as well as on Goethe’s classic version. The film is well-known for a sequence in which the giant, winged figure of Mephisto hovers over a town sowing the seeds of plague.

Nosferatu (music by Hans Erdmann) and Faust (music by Werner Richard Heymann) were two of the first films to feature original film scores. 

Murnau emigrated to Hollywood in 1926, where he joined the Fox Studio and made ‘Sunrise’ (1927), a movie often cited by film scholars as one of the greatest films of all time. Filmed in the Fox Movietone sound-on-film system (music and sound effects only), Sunrise was not a financial success, but received several Oscars at the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. In winning the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production it shared what is now the Best Picture award with the movie ‘Wings’.

Murnau’s next two films, the (now lost) ‘Four Devils’ (1928) and ‘City Girl’ (1930), were modified to adapt to the new era of sound film and were not well received. Their poor receptions disillusioned Murnau, and he quit Fox to journey for a while in the South Pacific. 

Together with documentary film pioneer Robert Flaherty, Murnau travelled to Bora Bora to realize the film ‘Tabu’ in 1931. Flaherty left after artistic disputes with Murnau who had to finish the movie on his own. The movie was censored in the United States for images of bare-breasted Polynesian women. The film was originally shot by cinematographer Floyd Crosby as half-talkie, half-silent, before being fully restored as a silent film — Murnau’s preferred medium.

Murnau did not live to see the premiere of his last film. He died in an automobile accident in Santa Barbara, California on 11 March 1931. Murnau was entombed on Southwest Cemetery (Südwest-Kirchhof Stahnsdorf) in Stahnsdorf near Berlin. Only 11 people attended the funeral. Among them were Robert Flaherty, Emil Jennings, Greta Garbo and Fritz Lang, who delivered the funeral speech. Garbo also commissioned a death mask of Murnau, which she kept on her desk during her years in Hollywood.

In 2000, director E. Elias Merhige released ‘Shadow of the Vampire’, a fictionalization of the making of Nosferatu. Murnau is portrayed by John Malkovich. In the film, Murnau is so dedicated to making the film genuine that he actually hires a real vampire (Willem Dafoe) to play Count Orlok.


Heather O’Rourke

Heather O’Rourke (December 27, 1975 – February 1, 1988) was an American child actress famous for playing Carol Anne Freeling in the Poltergeist film trilogy and made several television guest appearances. O’Rourke died due to medical error, and her death had long-lasting effects on her family and the media industry.

In the Poltergeist trilogy, O’Rourke played Carol Anne Freeling, a young suburban girl who becomes the conduit and target for supernatural entities. The New York Times noted that she had played the key role in the films and commented, “With her wide eyes, long blonde hair and soft voice, she was so striking that the sequel played off her presence.” During the production of the original Poltergeist, Spielberg twice accommodated the child actress when frightened. When scared by performing a particular stunt, Spielberg replaced O’Rourke with a stunt double wearing a blonde wig; and when disturbed by the portrayal of adult abuse toward the child characters, Spielberg did not require she perform the take again.For her work in Poltergeist, O’Rourke earned between US$35,000–$100,000. O’Rourke played the role in all three films. The Carol Anne character was the only member of the Freeling family to appear in the third film, Poltergeist III.

O’Rourke’s delivery of the lines “They’re here!” in the first film, and “They’re baa-aack!” in the second (that film’s tagline), placed her in the collective pop culture consciousness.

O’Rourke’s death complicated Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s marketing for her last work, Poltergeist III, out of fear of appearing to be exploiting her death. Tom Skerritt and Nancy Allen, O’Rourke’s co-stars, were discouraged from giving interviews about the film to avoid questions about O’Rourke’s death. O’Rourke died four months before the theatrical release of Poltergeist III, which was dedicated to her memory.

O’Rourke’s death (as well as four others) has been attributed to a supposed curse on the Poltergeist films and those associated with them; this urban legend supposedly stems from a real human skeleton used as a prop in the first film. According to backstage personnel, the ghost of O’Rourke herself haunts Paramount Pictures’ stage #19, where she filmed episodes of Happy Days.


Steven Spielberg – Part 4

Spielberg collaborated again with Tom Hanks along withCatherine Zeta-Jones and Stanley Tucci in 2004’s ‘The Terminal’, a warm-hearted comedy about a man of Eastern European descent who is stranded in an airport. It received mixed reviews but performed relatively well at the box office. In 2005, Empire magazine ranked Spielberg number one on a list of the greatest film directors of all time.

Also in 2005, Spielberg directed a modern adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic, ‘War of the Worlds’ (a co-production of Paramount and DreamWorks), Spielberg had been a huge fan of the book and the original 1953 film. It starred Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning, and, as with past Spielberg films, Industrial, Light & Magic (ILM) provided the visual effects. The film was another huge box office smash, grossing over $591 million worldwide.

Spielberg’s film ‘Munich’, about the events following the 1972 Munich Massacre of Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games, was his second film essaying Jewish relations in the world (the first being Schindler’s List). The film is based on ‘Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team’, a book by Canadian journalist George Jonas. It was previously adapted into the 1986 made-for-TV film ‘Sword of Gideon’. The film received strong critical praise, but underperformed at the U.S. and world box-office; it remains one of Spielberg’s most controversial films to date. Munich received five Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture, Film Editing, Original Music Score (by John Williams), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director for Spielberg. It was Spielberg’s sixth Best Director nomination and fifth Best Picture nomination.

Spielberg directed the awful ‘Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’, which wrapped filming in October 2007 and was released on May 22, 2008. This was his first film not to be released by DreamWorks since 1997. Oddly, the film received generally positive reviews from critics, and has performed very well in theaters. As of May 10, 2010, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has grossed $317 million domestically, and over $786 million worldwide. There’s no accounting for taste.

Spielberg has also produced the Don Bluth animated features, ‘An American Tail’ and ‘The Land Before Time’, which were released by Universal Studios. He also served as one of the executive producers of the groundbreaking ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ and its three related shorts (Tummy Trouble, Roller Coaster Rabbit, Trail Mix-Up), which were all released by Disney, under both the Walt Disney Pictures and the Touchstone Pictures banners. Steven Spielberg had cameo roles in ‘The Blues Brothers’, ‘Gremlins’, ‘Vanilla Sky’ and ‘Austin Powers in Glodmember’, as well as small uncredited cameos in a handful of other films, such as a life-station worker in Jaws; he also voiced himself in the film ‘Paul‘.

In early 2009, Spielberg shot the first film in a planned trilogy of motion capture films based on The Aventures of Tintin written by Belgian artist Herge,  with Peter Jackson producing.The first film, ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ will be released intoday in Australia. The world premiere took place on October 22, 2011 in Brussels, Belgium. The film was set to be released in North American theaters on December 21, 2011. Switching roles, Jackson has been announced to direct the second film, which Spielberg will produce.

Spielberg’s next film, ‘War Horse’, was shot in England in the summer of 2010, and will also be released in Australia today. The film, based on the novel of the same name, is about the long friendship between a British boy and his horse Joey before and during World War I — a novel that was adapted into a hit play in London which is running on Broadway as of April 2011. It will be released and distributed byDisney, with whom DreamWorks has made a 30-picture deal. The novel was written by Michael Morpurgo and published in 1982.

He will follow this with ‘Lincoln’, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestseller Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the film will follow Lincoln’s leadership during the years of the American Civil War. Written by Tony Kushner, the film will be released in the fourth quarter of 2012. It was announced in October 2011 that filming in Richmond, Virginia throughout the Fall of 2011.

After that, he will shoot Daniel H. Wilson’s novel Robopocalypse, adapted for the screen by Drew Goddard. It will be released by Disney in the United States and Fox overseas on July 3, 2013.


Merry Christmas – Krampuslauf Graz

Merry Christmas to all… enjoy the Krampuslauf Graz 2010 parade. Not exactly Santa and his Elves… much darker.