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

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George Romero R.I.P

RomeroLegendary filmmaker George A. Romero, father of the modern movie zombie and creator of the ground-breaking Night of the Living Dead and subsequent franchise, has died at 77.

Romero died Sunday in his sleep after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer,” according to a statement by his longtime producing partner, Peter Grunwald. Romero died while listening to the score of one his favourite films, 1952’s “The Quiet Man,” with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero, at his side, the family said.

Romero jump-started the zombie genre as the co-writer (with John A. Russo) and director of the 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead, which went to inspire future generations of filmmakers such as Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter that generating big scares didn’t require big budgets. Living Dead spawned an entire school of zombie knockoffs, and Romero’s sequels included 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, 1985’s Day of the Dead, 2005’s Land of the Dead, 2007’s Diary of the Dead and 2009’s George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead.
In recent years, as the zombie genre had a resurgence, Romero wasn’t always a fan. He told a British newspaper in 2013 that he’d been asked to do some episodes of The Walking Dead, but had no interest.

“Basically it’s just a soap opera with a zombie occasionally,” he told the Big Issue. “I always used the zombie as a character for satire or a political criticism, and I find that missing in what’s happening now.”

Romero took an intellectual view to his depiction of zombies, an approach he found lacking in some of the work that came after him.
“I grew up on these slow-moving-but-you-can’t-stop-them [creatures], where you’ve got to find the Achilles’ heel, or in this case, the Achilles’ brain,” Romero told The LA Times in 2005, referring to the organ whose destruction waylays a zombie. “In [the remake] they’re just dervishes, you don’t recognize any of them, there’s nothing to characterize them…. [But] I like to give even incidental zombies a bit of identification. I just think it’s a nice reminder that they’re us. They walked out of one life and into this.”

A sad day for my fellow horror fans, Romero kick-started so much of what we have come to love over the last 50 years. Rest in Peace.

 


Rakka by Neill Blomkamp

Director Neill Blomkamp is known for inventive depictions of extraterrestrial warfare, like in District 9 (2009) and Elysium (2013). True to form, his latest short, Rakka, features a richly textured post-apocalyptic world where humans and otherworldly creatures battle over their entwined fates. And in keeping with sci-fi tradition, the queen of alien ass-kicking, Sigourney Weaver, leads a group of people who have planned a rebellion against the creatures who “came here to exterminate us.”

Rakka does feel somewhat like an extended trailer, and that is by design. The film is the first release from Blomkamp’s new venture, Oats Studios, which is an experimental incubator for feature-length ideas and new storytelling formats. The studio has released the film for free, but asks audiences to support its future work by voluntarily paying for the work in return for some digital assets like scripts, concept art, and 3D models.

Blomkamp told The Verge that Rakka is just the seed of a larger project, whose form is yet unknown. “Rakka feels like it could almost be more of an episodic thing,” he said, “because there’s a lot of avenues to explore. The footage is too unconventional and weird [for a mainstream feature], and the audience has to think of the footage as a snapshot of the window of this world.”


Powers Boothe R.I.P

029-deadwood-theredlistPowers Boothe, a character actor who appeared in films like Sin City and TV shows including Deadwood and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., died Sunday morning in his sleep of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles. He was 68.

His rep told The Hollywood Reporter that a private service will be held in Boothe’s home state of Texas, with a memorial celebration under consideration as well. Donations can be made to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which honors the nation’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need.

Boothe, who grew up on a farm in Texas, began his acting career in the theatre, playing in a number of Shakespearean productions including Henry IV. He made his Broadway debut in the late 1970s in Lone Star & Pvt. Wars.

In 1980, Boothe won an Emmy for lead actor in a limited series or special for playing cult leader Jim Jones in CBS’ Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. He won that award during an actors strike and chose to cross the picket line to accept his trophy, saying, “This may be either the bravest moment of my career or the dumbest.”

On the strength of Guyana Tragedy, he was cast in Southern Comfort, one of my favourite movies of the 80’s. His character, Corporal Hardin was described by Director Walter Hill as “the rational, hardworking, self made individual” a description you believe could be applied to the subsequent casting image of Boothe.

He starred in A Breed Apart (1984), the John Boorman Amazonian adventure, The Emerald Forest (1985), again for Walter Hill in Extreme Prejudice (1987). He was unforgettable as the wicked gunman Curly Bill Brocius in Tombstone (1993). Excellent as Alexander Haig in Nixon (1995) and a sheriff in another Oliver Stone film, U Turn (1997).

Boothe gained a reputation for playing villains with memorable roles in the action film Sudden Death (1995), Bill Paxton’s Frailty (2001) and the nefarious Senator Roark in Sin City (2005). Perhaps his most famous villain role was Cy Tolliver, the ruthless saloon owner on HBO’s Deadwood. 

Boothe also was nominated two ensemble SAG Awards, first in 1996 alongside the cast of Nixon and then again in 2007 with the cast of Deadwood.

More recently, Boothe took on the role of Gideon Malick as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, debuting the role in 2012’s The Avengers and reprising it on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

 


Michael Parks R.I.P

Michael_ParksMichael Parks, a character actor who enjoyed a career renaissance in recent decades thanks to high profile roles in films by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith, died Wednesday at the age of 77.

Parks made his acting debut in a small role in 1961 on the sitcom The Real McCoys, and, racked up dozens of roles on both television and feature films, most notably as the casino owner and drug runner Jean Renault on the second season of Twin Peaks.

After years playing bit roles in made-for-TV movies, Westerns and slasher films, Parks was cast as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Rodriguez’ 1996 vampire flick From Dusk ’til Dawn. Quentin Tarantino, an associate of Rodriguez’, then cast Parks in a dual role for Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2; in the former, he reprised the McGraw role, while the latter found the actor playing Mexican pimp Esteban Vihaio.

Parks would portray McGraw once more for Tarantino and Rodriguez in the directors’ Grindhouse films. Tarantino also recruited Parks for a small role in Django Unchained.

Parks’ career revival also resulted in roles in Ben Affleck’s Argo, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford and a pair of Kevin Smith horror flicks, Red State and Tusk.

“Michael was, and will likely forever remain, the best actor I’ve ever known. I wrote both [Red State] and [Tusk] FOR Parks, I loved his acting so much,” Smith posted on Wednesday. “He was, hands-down, the most incredible thespian I ever had the pleasure to watch perform. And Parks brought out the absolute best in me every time he got near my set.”

At the time of his death, Parks was cast in the upcoming Christian Bale film Hostiles.


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.


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.


John Hurt R.I.P

john-hurt-final-webSir John Hurt, who won a BAFTA and an Oscar nomination for his iconic portrayal of the Elephant Man, has died. The star, one of Britain’s most treasured actors, died aged 77 at his home in Norfolk after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, it was revealed yesterday.

His widow, Anwen Hurt, today said it will be ‘a strange world’ with out the actor, whose death has prompted an outpouring of grief from the showbusiness industry, with director Mel Brooks and J K Rowling among those paying tribute. Mrs Hurt added: ‘John was the most sublime of actors and the most gentlemanly of gentlemen with the greatest of hearts and the most generosity of spirit. He touched all our lives with joy and magic and it will be a strange world without him.’

Despite revealing that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2015, Hurt was matter-of-fact about his mortality.

Speaking to the Radio Times, he said: ‘I can’t say I worry about mortality, but it’s impossible to get to my age and not have a little contemplation of it. We’re all just passing time, and occupy our chair very briefly,’ he said.

Born in Derbyshire in 1940, the son of a vicar and an engineer, Hurt spent what he described as a lonely childhood at an Anglo-Catholic prep school before he enrolled at a boarding school in Lincoln.

His acting aspirations were almost shattered forever by his headmaster’s insistence that he did not stand a chance in the profession. He left school to go to art college but dropped out, impoverished and living in a dismal basement flat.

He finally plucked up enough courage to apply for a scholarship and auditioned successfully for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, although he later recalled being so hungry he could hardly deliver his lines.

Hurt played a wide range of characters over the course of 60 years, was well known for roles including Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, the title role in The Elephant Man and more recently as wand merchant Mr Ollivander in the Harry Potter films. However, John Merrick notwithstanding here are a few of my personal favourte John Hurt roles:

Playing Timothy Evans, who was hanged for murders committed by his landlord John Christie, played chillingly by Richard Attenborough in 10 Rillington Place (1971), earning John Hurt his first BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor/

Hurt was fantastic in Midnight Express (1978), for which he won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Around the same time, he lent his voice to Ralph Bakshi’s animated film adaptation of Lord of the Rings, playing the role of Aragorn. Hurt also voiced Hazel, the heroic rabbit leader of his warren in the exceptional film adaptation of Watership Down (both 1978) and later played the major villain, General Woundwort, in the animated television series.

His other role at the turn of the 1980s included Kane, the first victim of the title creature in the Ridley Scott film Alien (1979, a role which he reprised as a parody in Spaceballs). Gilbert Ward “Thomas” Kane is the Nostromo‘s executive officer, who during the investigation of a wrecked ship, moves closer to an egg to get a closer look. The now iconic ‘facehugger’ attaches to him and, unbeknownst to him and the crew, impregnates him with an Alien embryo. Kane remains unconscious until the facehugger dies and falls off. At dinner afterwards, Kane goes into convulsions; an infant Alien bursts through his chest, killing him in one of cinemas most famous scenes.

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Hurt played Winston Smith in the film adaptation of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eigthy-Four (1984). Also in 1984, Hurt starred in The Hit an under-rated British crime film directed by Stephen Frears which also starred Terence Stamp and Tim Roth.

Dead Man (1995) a twisted and surreal Western, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch which also starred Johnny Depp, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Chrisin Glover and Robert Mitchum (in his final film role).

He also featured in a few graphic novel adaptations before they became big business for everyone, Hellboy (2004) and it’s sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) based on the graphic novels by Mike Mignola are great fun. He also took a similar role to that of Big Brother in the film V For Vendetta (2006), when he played the role of Adam Sutler, leader of the fascist dictatorship.

More than thirty years after The Naked Civil Servant, Hurt reprised the role of Quentin Crisp in An Englishman in New York (2009), which depicts Crisp’s later years in New York. Hurt also returned to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, playing the on-screen Big Brother for Paper Zoo Theatre Company’s stage adaptation of the novel in June 2009.

Of his latter years I particularly enjoyed his portrayal of the crotchety and bigoted Old Man Peanut in  44 Inch Chest (2009), and his support roles in Brighton Rock (2010) and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011).

Rest in Peace.