Sunday, August 2, 2015

3 Degrees of John Carpenter

Sometimes, a subject of cinematic value comes to my attention by way of much more than solely the appeal of one or more film it happens to be connected with.

Take, for instance, John Carpenter, remember him? He's that lanky, chain smoking, too cool dude who fathered a dozen or more genre classics from between the dawn of the 1970s on 'til the rise of this still fresh century we now dwell in. His legacy in the motion picture medium includes such indisputable perennials as 'Halloween', 'The Thing', 'Big Trouble in Little China' and 'They Live' and his signature, wide screen, old school western tinged images have spawned a veritable army of like minded cinephiles, filmmakers and imitators. His skill set was never limited, however, to the perimeters of the director's chair, the man often crafted the infectious musical accompaniment to many of his key films.

Thus, because of his multifaceted approach to his craft, i have decided to hone in on the John Carpenter phenomenon via a proper trifecta of directly related media products. You see, the past few months have proven right bountiful in regards to Mr. Carpenter and it is not just by way of his feature film output, but a few aspects that branch out a bit in their own direction.

To begin with, there is the inaugural audio recording that collects nine from scratch Carpenter compositions together as one very satisfying, stand alone album titled 'Lost Themes'. This record (created with the aid and input of Carpenter's son Cody and godson Daniel Davis) provides a willing listener with fresh insights into the musicianship this man has nurtured and perfected across years of successful film scoring. Each of the tracks (which bare a lone word as a title) work to conjure up vivid impressions of cinematic landscapes, set pieces and melodramatics that can only transpire along the big screen within ones imagination.

The record jumps off straight away with the tense build up/opening credit sequence worthy number 'Vortex' (think sounds suitable for an unrealized third 'Escape From..' flick) and moves forward with a sharp velocity through tracks that boast parts equally Carpenter-esque and often heavily inflected with the DNA of the scoring of Italian cult films (i.e. Dario Argento's great early career work with the prog-rock monstrosity Goblin).There are surging passages throughout, like in 'Domain', that call to mind a protagonist making a violent and hectic break for freedom, or moody bits that sound out a haunting or ritual sacrifice that has placed a key character in grave straits, as in 'Mystery'.

Within the totality of this too fab, fanboy gift from movie nerd heaven one is exposed to suggestions of soundtrack snippets (or 'cues') to many a 'coulda been' project that Carpenter found slipping away from him into 'development hell' for some convoluted reason or another. Winding my way into the track dubbed 'Abyss', for example, I found moments that called up shades (for me) of a long ago reported project in the works to be named 'Pincushion' and set to top line Cher (this was back in the 'Moonstruck' era, I think) in a post apocalypse survivalist saga and what kind of score would likely be laid over it. Again, with eyes closed and ears wide open, one can come close to guessing how it all may have played out on a big mall theatre screen. For a fact, though, we must simply cling to the concepts and sonic ambitions (that can also be read as further proof of the lasting effect this man's music has had on recent electro-rock outfits like LazerHawk and Zombi) contained inside these Lost Themes. Recommended fully for the long time Carpenter fan and/or uber adventurous record obsessive (

Second in line is actually directly film oriented, Shout! Factory's loaded gun of a Blu Ray reissue of Carpenter's set in cult cinema stone classic 'Escape From New York'. As per expectations, them Shout! (aka Scream) Factory scholars have thrown their all into this expansive readdressing of the film world's unforgettable introduction to that elite level anti-hero, Snake Plissken. For anyone unaware (and shame on you in advance), this film is the story of a fallen war hero named Snake (Kurt Russell) who is given a dodgy shot at redemption by virtue of a very dangerous rescue mission proposal. See, the whole thing is future set (a 1997 from a 1980s perspective) and Manhattan island in the NYC has been sectioned off as a full bore max security penitentiary. It would seem the President of the USA (essayed here by Englishman Donald Pleasence) has been kidnapped and his Airforce Uno has crashed straight into the heart of this de facto prison and it is now up to Plissken to track him down and whisk him back to safety. To make matters ever more pressing (and to help establish the film's tempo), Snake has been fitted with capsules primed to completely dissolve and kill our boy if he fails to deliver the president back to the free world in under a 24 hour time frame.

The bulk of 'Escape From New York' shows the hurtles Snake must overcome in order to fulfill his obligation and win his freedom (and save his mortal soul). Along the way, Snake encounters a colorful cast of suitably warped or wretched supporting characters, often fleshed out by game thespians who no longer walk this Earth. We get Lee Van Cleef as Police Commissioner Bob Hauk, the man who sets Plissken's fate (and the movie's main storyline) in motion, goofy Earnest Borgnine as a gabby cabbie who assists Snake on the inside, Isaac Hayes as the malevolent Duke of New York and Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Atkins and  various lesser names to fill in the patchwork populace that struggles to survive in this future hell.

To take all this beyond just the basics of the film proper, the Shout! Factory has piled on the extra treats. Apart from the customary, amazing new transfer of the movie, there are three separate audio commentaries (feat. Carpenter, Kurt Russell and many other production helpers) which greatly detail the whole ground level film making process (including the fact that a burned out St. Louis subbed in for the big apple for much of the shoot). On a seperate bonus disc there is a plethora of featurettes covering visual effects, production design, an interview with still photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker (more on her in a moment) and deleted footage of the bank robbery sequence that was once meant to open the picture (and firmly cement Plissken's criminal element, too bad it appears in a VHS bootleg quality clip here).

Not hard to understand that this is the total package, seek it swiftly.

Finally we have a hardcover publication that touches on some of the finer points in the coming together of some of John Carpenter's earlier works. 'On The Set With John Carpenter, the Photographs of Kim Gottlieb-Walker' is a wonderful peek behind the scenes tome that shares a bundle of Kim's ever perceptive monochrome still work during the creation of 'Halloween I & II', 'The Fog', 'Escape From New York' and Carpetner's solid adapt of Stephen King's 'Christine'. The book mixes candid making of imagery with knowing quotations that shed insight into the filmmaking process with effortless success.

This is a book that gives as close a perspective on many of the more minute aspects of the work-a-day process of putting a motion picture together as a film geek could ask for. Many of these fantastic shots convey both the labor and the love that came to play a part in the crafting of each project (some of my faves come from the set of 'Escape From N.Y.'). Gottlieb-Walker's eye is naturally drawn to subtle moments that transpire between the big bursts of the production workload, the downtime moments that help define the honest, human element behind it all. Too bad she wasn't on board for Carpenter's great take on 'The Thing', but what you get with this here book is definitely worth seeing and absorbing.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


A Photo Essay in Regards to Some Local Performance Art that Stands on It's Own.


In this thing called Wisconsin there is a nominal lil' feller who likes to sling odd rhymes and get sleazy with his old lady on stage. Sometimes it gets a bit absurd, but that's all part of the nature of the game, right?

  Not for lack of sheer spectacle, the hip-hop ambassador calling himself  'Lo Double T' is not afraid to raise the bar on the absurd when it comes to throwing down in front of a batch of drunken fools at whatever venue will take him (and his equally game spouse Amanda).

It's all in the name of art and some folks have even come to refer to it as 'The Gospel'.


Check them beats (several recordings, including the hot-shit album 'Pretty Dead', are readily available for human consumption) at.......


Wednesday, April 15, 2015



With a much trumpeted, late in the game, return to the strange environs of the fabled world of Twin Peaks, Washington at an apparent stand still between chief architect David Lynch and new host network Showtime, I see no better reason to pay a quick revisit to the original, legendary series and its most recent home video rebirth. So, while Lynch threatens to turn his back on a proposed 9 part, 25 years on update with whomever still remains above ground from the cast, the fine cats at Paramount have, in recent months, sought to grace us all with something undeniably attractive called 'Twin Peaks:The Entire Mystery'. This enticing, all Blu Ray box set (10 discs in total) collects together the complete (to date) run through of the quirky highs and murky (and often nightmarish) lows of Lynch and conceptual partner Mark ('Hill Street Blues') Frost's intricately fabricated slice of life in the extreme upper Pacific Northwest.

We are presented with all of the 29 parts of the under two season long run of the once stratospherically hip prime time melodrama that first introduced the pop culture universe to Special Agent Dale (Kyle MacLachlan) Cooper, his eternally disembodied assistant Diane (represented only ever by a tiny cassette recorder), Cooper's philosophy on the value of a damn fine cup of java and how this agent (and his assorted peers) would come to play a crucial role in aiding the wonderfully apart from conventional Twin Peaks locals in finding a solution to the shocking murder of their girl most beloved, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Also stuffed inside the set's elaborately designed packaging is the highly polarizing 'prequel' feature film follow up, 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me'. With this separately concocted film, David Lynch set to the task of fleshing out the explicit particulars that led a seemingly innocuous 'good girl' like Mrs. Palmer down the path of rank deprivation that was to ultimately
place her in harm's way in the very worst fashion. The film also swapped out certain characters from the series (for various reasons) and introduced new key players into the T.P. mythos, including Special Agents Chet Desmond (singer Chris Issak) and Sam Stanley (a pre-24 Kiefer Sutherland) and greatly made use of the content freedoms an MPAA sanctioned R rating granted.

The legacy of 'Twin Peaks' as a whole, from inauguration to this point today, is one of swift rise and fall in the critically fickle context of the public eye with the (at the time) ill advised prequel landing D.O.A. in theaters in late summer 1992. Yet, as a born to be 'Cult Classic' is wont to do, 'Twin Peaks' refused to lay down and die a quiet death. The whole thing gave rise to clubs, conventions (one of which is spotlighted within the set's special features, more on that stuff in a bit) and fervent campaigns to unearth unseen materials (primarily from 'Fire Walk With Me') that were said to hold more overall worth then your average 'Deleted Scenes' supplement. The fan love pushed the saga on forward, spawning several home video releases (VHS and DVD) before arriving at this most rewarding confection I am blathering on about here.

Now, the basic storyline should prove familiar to many who've dabbled at all in the realm of David Lynch or cult screen curiosities in general. If not, here goes; one foggy morning, the body of town princess Laura Palmer is discovered washed ashore and wrapped in plastic by gentle old Pete Martell (played by 'EraserHead' lead man Jack Nance) which in turn sets off a chain of twisty events entwining the citizens of Twin Peaks with the All American Powerhouse known as the F.B.I. Thus the arrival of the relentlessly chipper Agent Cooper to the base of operations of one Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) and his stable of goofy but dedicated cronies. These none too battle tested, bumpkin type police officials turn out to be just the kind of support group our golden boy Cooper was greatly hoping for. The bulk of the first portion of the series details the convoluted specifics of the homicide investigation with growing supernatural influence transpiring
across the stomping grounds of a passing carnival of strange and unique personas who love, fight, frustrate and continually work to confound expectations as the inevitable (if sadly premature) network mandated reveal of Laura's killer looms on the horizon.

Once the murderer is given a proper face though, things begin to fracture and the narrative starts to veer all over the damn place. Sure, a new plot device/villain is slotted in as a long standing rival of Cooper's, one Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh), arrives deep into the second season to dole out the sadistic head games, but the ensuing episodes became a great deal more, well, episodic. Apparently this was somewhere around the time both Lynch and Frost were becoming immersed in new big screen projects ('Wild At Heart' and 'Storyville' respectively) so it was all largely left up to the hands of various writers and a wild assortment of directors (among them, Tim 'River's Edge' Hunter and Diane Keaton, doing her very best odd duck Lynch impression) to carry the load, and the results truly did vary. A sudden succession of guest star bits were added to help maintain some semblance of a creative spark (most of note, future X-Files heartthrob, David Duchovny, as an

 F.B.I. Agent dressed up in slick feminine attire) but regardless of all this tireless overexursion, the series had clearly lost a major chunk of its mojo and several plot points came off as irrefutably forced (such as a beauty pageant sub-plot) and accordingly, the public interest waned. Pity, as the project as a whole comes across a bit like a small screen masterwork left incomplete (the final episode does provide a fitting cliffhanger). So perhaps the rumblings of a rekindling of that Twin Peaks fire should not seem so surprising, even this many moons on.

This here super-duper box set has so much to share beyond just the series and its companion film. Apart from providing all of the eccentric Twin Peaks tale in a pristine HD transfer there is a boat load of nuggets from archival and more current sources that work to break the phenomena of the thing down in 'in depth' measures. Cast and crew members help to, somewhat, enlighten upon the steps it took to make a bit of prime time television history care a collection of new and older interviews and on set asides. Most triumphantly, the long lusted after 'Fire Walk With Me' cut footage portion (arranged here by Lynch himself as a 90 minute segment meant to stand on its own) is not likely to elect much in the way of disappointment. Many key ideas and supporting characters receive expanded screen time, including odd bits pertaining to David Bowie's enigmatic agent Phillip Jeffries and a whole bunch more footage of the prophetic dwarf (Michael J. Anderson) who dwells in that, mostly red, 'other place'.

Still further elements that never made it anywhere near the final release cut of 'Fire Walk With Me' finally have their day too; Sheriff Truman, his stoic, Native American deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) and the impossibly dense lovebirds Andy (Harry Goaz) Brennan and Lucy the receptionist (Kimmy Robertson) are on hand as they all originally had filmed cameos, as did Pete Martell and the lovely Josie Packard (Joan Chen). The resolution of the whole damn thing (perhaps the entire Twin Peaks universe in total) may have originally held a more cosmic, time melding agenda then viewers were previously aware of, according to a few revealing sequences on display here. Yes, the wait for this missing stuff is finally over, and the rewards do measure up.

Elsewhere in the set, David Lynch enacts his own fond (albeit expectedly eccentric) memories of the project in features both semi-vintage and brand new in which he picks his own cranium as well as those of several key cast members (Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie and others) from the program both in and out of character. There are also plenty of old school promo spots, photo stills of anything from on set action to long obscured trading cards of the show and both the domestic and international (stand alone and slightly longer) versions of the pilot episode that set it all in motion.

Yeah, not much has been left behind, this beast is very concise. Recommended to anyone adventurous enough to hold a fair opinion of David Lynch or this series in the first place.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


This month I am going to devote some quality time toward a surprisingly good modern day take on one of the oldest school fractions of the monster movie sub-genre. Said film, calling itself 'Late Phases' (with the subtitle, 'Night of the Lone Wolf' on the cover art but nowhere in the film) and hailing from the good folks at Glass Eye Pix (by way of Dark Sky Films) seeks to pull itself up from the oft tread conventions tied tight to the common fold of the werewolf film staple and branch off in a decidedly different, more character fueled, direction.

Situated in some far flung, small in scale New York state locale dubbed 'Crescent City', 'Late Phases' weds the viewer close to the pared down living situation of one vision free war vet name of Ambrose McKinley (realized onscreen by the ever dependable Nick Damici) with little more to yearn for but to count off the remaining days of his dwindling existence with his loyal pooch by his side. Our dutifully complacent chap has just freshly set down in these uneventful parts (with the aid of his always distracted son, played by Ethan Embry) when, from directly out of nowhere, arrives an intrusive menace of an extremely bestial nature. It would appear, as the pesky quirks of horror movie fate would have it, that the 'harmless' vibe of this community is seriously inflected by a heady dose of Lycanthropic corruption.

The first thick taste of such comes in very direct fashion one fitfully solemn evening wherein our main man cursed with the failed eyeballs must quickly acclimate to a violent, fatal attack upon, first his kindly neighbor and next his ever faithful, four legged best friend. Promptly following this unprovoked assault, Ambrose sets forth to plot a course of action that will, hopefully, locate, isolate and snuff out the savage culprit. What this will ultimately entail is the deeper delving into the predictably conservative social circles that inform the spine of this specific slice of small town Americana. Ambrose attempts (not often successfully) to win the trust of the resident old biddy greeting committee (designed, to a degree, after characters in the original 'Stepford Wives' as confessed by the director on the revelatory commentary track) as well as integrate himself into the thick of the area religious populace (which looks to be a fair chunk of the story's supporting players). This all unfolds in a fairly expected manner with a series of not-so-stable confrontations giving way to the inevitable red herring or two on the way to the customary human to were-thing transformation reveal that these kinds of pictures are cemented around.

Fortunately for us, this oh so potentially simple and cliché susceptible piece of lower budget, wolfman calamity is guided to a far nobler fruition by the totally able hand of a gent named Adrian Garcia Bogliano. Those precious few of you who actually follow my scattershot column on a constant basis may recall that name as being associated with a lively film I covered but a year ago called 'Here Comes the Devil'. That film proved itself the wealthy result of an ingenious and uber-resourceful filmmaker who could absorb and adapt his volumetric genre influences to the benefit of a work that, in itself, was wholly original and effortlessly engrossing. 'Here Comes the Devil' also marked the widest ever exposure in this America Bogliano had yet been graced with. This reasonable level of cult success on, mostly, the festival circuit served to put him in a position to take the next best step forward in his rising career, to craft a film within our lovely boarders. Thus, 'Late Phases' was born.

For this, Bogliano's official English lingo debut, the man has carted a few of his well honed directorial traits with him. Witness the soothing warmth of the often succulent cinematography that works one into a lull to pull them away from the danger you know damn well is impending. See, as well, the fetishistic dedication to utter practicality when it comes to the meat of his film's FX work. Minimal digital input was employed in the rendering of the beasties or their unsparing carnage. What you eventually lay eyes on is, for the most part, pure latex, body in suit reality (the 'from scratch to completion' details can be found in the 30 minute featurette 'Early Phases' which ventures into creature maker Robert Kurtzman's studio to casually observe the nuts and bolts behind it all). Now, while it makes for a slight case of sensory adjustment, these delightfully cheesy monstrosities actually prove to be effective throwback, shock horror material once the last stains of polished digital trickery fall from ones' psyche. They help to propel the mounting unease as generated throughout the narrative between our protagonist and a litany of set minded residents who can never really gel to Ambrose's somewhat cold, do it yourself persona.

It seems this fella's determined in-town snooping has raised up the red flag with a number of folks from the gabby spinsters to the local police and back around to the members of faith who express equal parts concern and distain at his disruptive behavior. In the end, it all must spiral back to a case of a life hardened man and his sharpened wits pairing up against a violent wall of supernatural opposition, something the film rather effectively marries to the concept of a fading mortal soul facing its' concluding moments.

'Late Phases' is, apart from being a solid genre entry occasioned by welcome bursts of quality gore, a very satisfying roll out of distinct characters and the fitting performances that breathe them to cinematic life. In addition to the fine, subtly rendered lead work by Damici (whom some may recall from his team ups with stellar director Jim Mickle, like 'Stakeland"), the picture is peppered with many a (semi) familiar mug from across the cult-pop culture entertainment landscape.

The statuesque Tom ('House of the Devil', 'Last Action Hero') Noonan takes part as a mentor like preacher with a soft spot for cigarettes, Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligan's Island, now looking more like a Golden Girl) show up as one of the pesky neighbors, Lance Guest (the teen hero of 'The Last Starfighter') is a rather creepy hanger on at the church and former 'Twin Peaks' bad boy Dana Ashbrook cameos as an underground gun dealer. All help to fill out the background details nicely. Each piece of this decent cast works to raise the end product well above the standards long set down by one too many a slapped together, direct to the shelf, werewolf themed time killer.

'Late Phases' features the usual extra stuff (some of it mentioned above); play by play audio commentary, a pair of featurettes and the film's trailer. It comes to availability on Blu Ray and/or DVD from the aforementioned Dark Sky Films (

Worth a shot, I say.

Now, for a much needed passing mention to the ongoing phenomenon of the film festival in this state of ours. With many such cinema based gatherings taking place all across Wisconsin (Wildwood in Appleton, Wisconsin International Film Fest in Madison plus collectives in Green Bay, Milwaukee, Weyauwega and many, many others) I thought it only fitting to pass along a quick assemblage of my own make pretend fest line up culled from many recent finds that I just never got around to rambling about in a regular column.

1. 'Whiplash'-Call it 'Full Metal Jazz Band'. Young drummer with obvious skill set comes under the intense tutelage of a firebrand instructor (J.K. Simmons in an Oscar winning, volcano of a performance). The film charts how the poor lad must endure relentless immersion into the methods of his chosen craft (often to the sharp accompaniment of a barrage of profane insults) in order to come out the other side as one of the greats. The best I've seen, thus far, of the most recent slate of Academy Award darlings (sorry Birdman).

2. 'Under the Skin'- Scarlett Johansson is an alien newly arrived on Earth (more explicitly, Scotland) with an apparent agenda of luring suitable human males, by virtue of her foxy exterior, to her mysterious lair for abduction and...uh...processing purposes or something. Slow, spare and enigmatic, the film marks a return to filmmaking after a near decade of absence for Jonathan Glazer ('Sexy Beast', 'Birth') who takes the bare skeleton of Michel Faber's source novel and has crafted an absorbing study of a being out of place in an environment made all the more alien in itself as the whole film seems to align with Scarlett's character's somewhat abstracted point of view. Dense and challenging in its ambiguity.

3. 'The Guest'- Those clever, 'wink, wink', cats behind the home invasion splat fest 'You're Next', Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, are back with another jumpy thriller that repeatedly nods back in time toward entries from multiple genres from the 80s and 90s. A soldier on return from the Afghan war ingratiates himself as the proposed combat pal of a naïve family's fallen son. The mystery thickens as the man (essayed by 'Downton Abby' star Dan Stevens) turns out to hold secrets that could prove quite threatening to his obliging hosts. Twisty, stylish fun in an old school, accidental video store discovery kind of way.

4. 'Starry Eyes'- Think of one of David Lynch's starlet in trouble scenarios played out on a more straight arrow path, for awhile, until the darker themes of the storyline bleed vividly to the surface. Somebody named Alex Essoe stars as Sarah, a waitress at a typically degrading Hooters knock off joint who yearns to be a star, awww. She claims she'll do anything to get the part and soon finds herself put to the test of making good on her word in the most unexpected and disturbing way. Relentless once it kicks into its' true narrative intent, with a game lead performance by Essoe that runs an emotional gauntlet that stands to gut the soul of any timid viewer.

5. 'VHS Viral'+'The ABC's of Death 2'- The latest additions to the two anthology franchises that have done all in their power to fully revitalize the format to the level once held by the likes of 'Creepshow'. They're not quite there, but not for lack of persistence and notable improvement of product (especially 'ABC's' which had a lot to make up for in relation to its inaugural entry). Segments very wildly as per usual, but there seems to be a shift in favor of craftsmanship and stronger ideas (as opposed to beat you over the head gross out/shock tactics) which gives me great hope as this whole concept continues to move foreword. Bring on the next round.  

6. 'Life Itself'- A look at the life and uneasy death (more to the point, dying days) of the most famous of all movie critics, Roger Ebert. 'Hoops Dreams' creator Steve James conducts a series of interviews with a post speech, jaw removal Ebert in his hospital room and interweaves the recollection of Roger's rise from lowly Illinois newspaper lackey to the heights of cinematic analysis as the co-host of the popular 'At The Movies' syndicated program and beyond with input from some of the man's big name pals like Martin Scorsese and Werner Herzog. We see images from Ebert's youth in Urbana, IL and hear recollections from many mouths of his tussle with serious alcohol abuse before he became the sweater sporting rival to fellow Chicago film critic Gene Siskel. Funny, revealing and a bit unsettling (James is often present for Ebert's sometimes unpleasant medical upkeep), 'Life Itself' is a fully rewarding look at one of the most unique of all modern celebrities, in this overburdened age of self indulgent blogging and social network info-overkill will there ever be elbow room enough for another like him? Me thinks not.

That's enough. Happy festing, no matter how or where you do it.

Monday, October 20, 2014




The year has come right 'round yet again to the cool and collected days of November, time of ill themed holiday gluttony and, as always, a truly fitting time frame for a little local film festival madness.

Movie geeks take note, just about 30 minutes northwest of this Fox Valley thing, (most of) you readers call home, lies the quiet, unassuming city of Weyauwega. Here (in the Main Street-placed Gerold Opera House) can be found the annual Weyauwega International Film Festival. In years previous, the W.I.F.F. has played gracious host to such rich cinematic jewels as John Frankenheimer’s seminal 60s haunter Seconds, the loopy art-house sensation from France Holy Rollers, the clever and highly clandestine Disney theme-park phantasmagoria Escape from Tomorrow and such Wisconsin-generated gems as West of Thunder and Dead Weight.
Audiences were treated to a wide selection of film types; documentaries, dramas, comedies, action and even some low-brow, grindhouse-worthy horror (Don’t Go To the Reunion or Billy Club anyone?) and the whole thing looks primed to grow ever bigger with each coming year.

This given year, the 4th such episode of the fest will unfold (beginning on Wednesday, November 12th and wrapping up on Saturday the 15th) in high style. It all kicks of with some ambitious non-fiction cinema in 'Wait', about a creative team (one filmmaker, one musician) wandering across and throughout the varying cultures and communities of South America guided by the mutual pull of something out of their collective past and the epic character study 'Old Man' by fest veteran and award winner Dan Schneidkraut. This puppy charts the highs and lows that befall a father/son tandem set against the impending fate of a long standing Minnesota based record store. Director Schneidkraut is expected to be in attendance to discuss the merits of his 170 minute (!) opus. 'Old Man' rolls at 4:30pm.

To slot out the remainder of the fest itinerary W.I.F.F. masterminds Ian Teal and Kathy Fehl have pieced together another sturdy collection of intriguing prospects for any devout cinephile to blissfully devour. For handy example, one can take in promising options like '100: Head/Heart/Feet' which covers the uber obsessive nature of something termed 'ultra-running', wherein a set of athletes compete in an intense, 100 mile long marathon...without reprieve for as much as 30 hours! 'My Name is Jonah' is a portrait of a self designed 'mythic cult hero' who turns out, in real time, to be a rather less than average Joe (or Jonah). 'Wisconsin Mining Standoff', originally produced for Al Jazeera's 'Faultlines' series, could prove to generate a high level of in state related controversy and healthy debate (and you can expect our golden boy-Slick Scotty Walker to figure into it all). 'Oracles of Pennsylvania Avenue', where we get an up front opportunity to witness, via the decades long persistence of three relentless activists, the dedicated origins of what is now so commonly branded (and sometimes smugly dismissed as) the 'Occupy Movement'. Proof positive that many a solid non-fiction film is set to unspool for your educational benefit.     

Also a part of the mix is the Russian bred festival and critical darling 'The Fool' (W.I.F.F. takes great pride in pulling entries in  from all over the globe into their total program) an earnest and, at times, tragic dramatic piece of social commentary focusing on a poor, good natured maintenance man faced with the moral dilemma of how to save the population of a woefully neglected apartment complex. That film is set to bow on Saturday at 5:30pm. Further still, each of the W.I.F.F. installments also likes to indulge in a bit of film nerd nostalgia on a Thursday afternoon. This year's entry is 'The Men' from 1950, directed by Fred Zinnemann ('High Noon', 'From Here to Eternity') and featuring the debut big screen performance by some guy named Marlon Brando as a crippled war vet who must struggle to regain control of what's left of his, now civilian, life. Admission to this throwback feature is free and is again accompanied by the presence of area film scholar Dr. Jack Rhodes. It all starts at 1pm.

There will also be a very rich smattering of short film packages right alongside all the heavyweight features. On Friday, starting at 9pm, the fest will showcase a fat block of short films by Wisconsin filmmakers exclusively. Plus, at other spots during the fest Dan (Ed Gein-the Musical) Davis will appear as the star of the emotion based 'Beyond Goldenhill" (Sat. about 12:30pm) and Oshkosh superstar John Pata will make a return to Weyauwega for yet another screening of his searing Pig Destroyer influenced punch to the gut 'Pity' (Thursday in the area of 6:30pm). Many (if not all) of the folks involved in these locally born projects should be on hand to engage in some sweet movie talk afterwards.

The main event (as it were) and festival closer this time is a seemingly light hearted little something entitled 'Bucky and the Squirrels', an odd duck retro-satire of sorts about a 1960s one hit wonder pop group (out of our own Appleton, of all spots) who went missing shortly after breaking big. Ages pass into the present day and the lads are unearthed from the frozen confines of their Swiss Alps imprisonment and brought to consciousness. This strange concoction was, for the most part, lensed on location in and around the Appleton area by a well seasoned pro named Allan Katz. Katz is a writer-producer-director-actor who has finessed his trade in (mostly) old school sitcom television. He has taken part in many a greatly adored classic like 'M.A.S.H.', 'Sanford & Son' and 'Roseanne' only to switch gears a bit to script and star in the instantly obscure, now cult chic film 'Big Man on Campus'. In recent years Katz has taken to sharing his accumulated knowledge and experience as a teacher of all things in relation to putting on a show at various universities, one of them being Appleton's own high end Lawrence U.


See, Mr. Katz has connections to Lawrence by way of several key alumni he forged lasting relationships with years back. At the beginning of his career, Katz toiled at an advertising agency where he first crossed paths with a certain chap, Tom Hurvis. Hurvis and his wife, as fate would have it, are both successful end products of the Lawrence University educational system and years on down the line they would call on Katz for a favor, they asked him to bring some industry know-how to their beloved alma matter. Paired with another alum, Catherine Tatge, who was working to jump start a viable film program on the campus, Katz was asked to oversee a short film writing and production course that worked to immerse students in the specifics of film production. From there things progressed toward the proposal of crafting a full fledged feature that would involve students and allow them to gain hands on experiences on a real, thriving film set. The production would also serve to work as much local Appleton flavor into the blend as possible as a way of paying tribute to the positive spirit Katz says he found quite commonplace around the school and throughout the surrounding area.

This heavy incorporation of Fox Valley bodies and real estate makes this 'Bucky and the Squirrels' thing the must see Wisconsin epic of, probably, the whole festival. The Saturday evening screening (8pm) of 'Bucky and the Squirrels' is actually the official world premiere for the film (a move by Katz to pay tribute to the productive Wisconsin backbone the film is founded on) and the man himself told me with his own voice, by way of a quick phone chat, that he will be on the scene to share in the fun and bond with folks afterwards.  

To follow up all this movie watching and related banter there will be the concluding festival awards ceremony and socially rewarding after party with all the beer drinking, dancing and whatever else people do after a full slate of serious movie digestion has been put to rest.

Any and every inquiry related to the Weyauwega International Film Festival can be directed to this lovely web savvy address; Ticket pricing, finalized schedule layout, directions and the like will be on hand for those who (I hope) will develop the curiosity needed to make the trek to this year's edition of the little festival that could.

May the urge reach you, one and all, to take in some quality cinema out there in wonderful Weyauwega.

Happy festing.  

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Way back when, during the mammoth nerd expo that is San Diego Comic-Con (circa 2009).   

At one lofty point during the course of my Comic-Con immersion I found my self locked in one particularly cramped and unsanitary men's restroom with none other than the morally ignorant, gloriously inhuman Oderus Urungus, front man to the world renowned 'Scumdogs of the Universe', GWAR. I put myself in this potentially suspect situation (think prison sex with less hygiene) in order to obtain some nuggets of wisdom from perhaps the greatest rock persona since...uh, that guy with the chainsaw from Jackyl.

We begin with a warm up, just to get the juices flowing.
I ask the esteemed Mr. Urungus to share his thoughts and musings on the  impending 25th anniversary of his band, the accompanying tour and (most  importantly) the arrival of the latest and potentially greatest GWAR record to  date, 'Lust in Space'.
'Basically what we got going this year is GWAR's 25th year on the planet since we've been dethawed via the copious overuse of hairspray. 25 years is not a heck of a lot to an eternal god, it's more like half of an eye blink, yet in human terms it's a long time. So we have decided to declare the onset of a two year celebration of all things GWAR. Our new album, 'Lust in Space' drops on August 18th. We will have a two year celebration because, quite simply, one year is too short. Two years is twice as long! We might even take it up to 3 or 4 years if it's going well.'

'GWAR will go down in history as the band that took 25 years to break. It's a lot like jacking off for 25 years and finally getting your nut, which is what I will be doing at every show.'

Every  one?

'At every single show I will share my filthy load upon your faces and together, all you freaks out there who have supported GWAR for all these  years will be paid back in full. GWAR is not an easy band to support, you've got to take the slings and arrows of ignorant assholes that don't understand our majesty. It's a whole new level of commitment. What other band asks you to sever your mother's head, core out her genitals with a daisy cutter and then have sex with the family dog? Not many, but GWAR fans are all over it.'

About this new record, where does it fit in reference to your earlier works?
'I would say that it is a new level of GWAR's super awesome-nasity (sic). If you took all the GWAR albums and melted them down into mush, it probably fits somewhere in the middle. It's got the thrash of 'Hell-o', the epic metal of 'America Must Be Destroyed', the Dungeons and Dragons on LSD of 'Violence Has Arrived' and it's got the  title of 'Lust in Space'. It is the greatest GWAR album since the last time  we did an album.'

'GWAR at its' worst destroys Slipknot at its' best. Even when Cory what's his face is crapping into a solid gold toilet right onto his fans' faces. We've got a relationship with our fans that is beyond insidious, it's not rape, yet it has something to do with dentistry. I'm not sure what that means but I know that Monty Python would understand.'

Let's talk about your re-signing with Metal Blade Records and also one particular track on 'Lust in Space' that appears to have heavy radio airplay written all over it, 'Make a Child Cry', what inspired you to write this little gem?

'On this planet, there is this whole idea that children are to be 'cared for'. They are to be fed, they are to be given presents and so forth. In outer space, children are used as power units for cybernetic war suits or sex aids and the like. The children of your planet are your  future and if we can destroy them all you will have none, and that is kind of the idea behind  that.'

As for Metal Blade........?

'We're back with Metal Blade, we were on some other label for awhile that didn't make any sense what so ever, they went broke or something. So we're finally back with the ultimate metal label in the world, it was just the perfect time, with the 25th anniversary thing and all. The cosmos, the planets, they're all in line to make this the most successful year in GWAR's history. Metal Blade, they are very much like us, they've been out forever and gone through highs and lows, yet they've hung in there. Brian Slagel (the label's founder) is fat and bald and I love the man. Bringing GWAR back together with Metal Blade is like Laural and Hardy, Charlie and Chaplin, it's like 'you got your anal sex into my carburetor!' It's a wonderful thing.'


'They're putting out the new record, it's really the  story of GWAR's final escape from earth. We travel through space, we run out of crack, we have to go back to  earth, that's pretty much the story.'

How about this epic new tour? Any surprise guests?

'Well, we don't wanna give anything away. We got Sleazy P. Martini with us this year. Now that he's solidified his control of the crack industry and the world porno industry, he's back into erecting solid gold skyscrapers and managing the band. We got a lot of off-planet people, back from the old days before GWAR came to this world. Like our old General, General Zod.'

Will you make another stop at the Rave, in gorgeous downtown Milwaukee?

'We'll be back in Milwaukee or Chicago, it all depends on who gives us more money.' (The boys will be sharing the stage at the Rave with Lamb of God and Job For a Cowboy November 6th)

In conclusion, can you just throw a few words out there about what GWAR means to you at this  point?

'All I can say is this, GWAR is the greatest band in rock n' roll history. Nobody cares so much about their  fans that they would mouth Jello molds into a testicle.'

And with that last pearl of infinite wisdom, Sir Oderus wraps me in a sweaty, drunken embrace and we part ways. I stumble in my typical Menasha way out into a fitfully rank crowd to bare witness to the two-fold threat of GWAR and Canadian battle metal progenitors, 3 Inches of Blood, and I have lots of woefully under lit pictures to prove it.