The “Queen” of Horror – An Interview with Brinke Stevens

Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.”

How true this is, especially in the film industry. Would the horror film even exist without a damsel in distress? Predators and their prey are a constant theme throughout horror novels and movies. Would King Kong have been so tragic without Fay Wray? Would Psycho have been so nerve-racking without Janet Leigh? Femme fatales are an essential part of the horror genre. As the home video market gained strength in the 1980s, small studios frantically produced scores of lower budget films, or B-Movies, to satisfy the ravenous fan base. The actresses who pioneered this new age of horror and comedy in the home video entertainment became known as “Scream Queens”. At the peak of the B-movie revolution, Director Donald Farmer interviewed many of the hottest scream queens in the industry for his documentary Invasion of The Scream Queens. Fans of Brinke Stevens and B-movie fanatics can now see these rarely seen interviews thanks to Wild Eye Releasing’s new 20th Anniversary DVD release of this sought-after documentary.

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, eager young horror fans rented scores of direct-to-video movies and stayed up all night watching cable TV to catch the latest offerings by their favorite actresses and directors. With titles like Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Slumber Party Massacre and Teenage Exorcist, a cult movie craze had exploded. One of the most admired stars of the genre is Brinke Stevens, a petite, raven-haired beauty with an uncanny ability to portray predator, prey and girl next door with ease. Not limited to acting, Brinke has also worked behind the scenes as a producer and director, with several screenplays to her credit. She has even written and appeared in her own comic book series, “Brinke of Eternity” and “Brinke of Destruction”, as well as modeling for everything from magazines to trading cards to art prints. We asked Brinke about her start in the movie industry and find out what’s been keeping her busy lately. Join me on this Brinke of discovery

JOHN HUMPHREY: Considering you have a Master’s Degree in Marine Biology from Scripps Institute and are a member of Mensa, my first question would have to be: Brinke, when did you begin your film career, and what was your motivation for working in the film industry?

BRINKE STEVENS: It was a total accident. I just wanted a quiet little lab in Hawaii where I could work with dolphins. In 1980, I married my childhood sweetheart [“Rocketeer” creator and artist] Dave Stevens and moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, California. While looking for a scientist job, I wandered past the open door of a casting office – and was immediately hired as an extra in All the Marbles. Soon, I was cast in my first major speaking role, Slumber Party Massacre (1981). I quickly landed many more film jobs, and magazines were suddenly calling me a “Scream Queen”. I always say, “My career chose me, I didn’t choose it.”

HUMPHREY: Why do you think the 1980s was such an important decade for independent horror films?

STEVENS: When the revolutionary home-video boom created a huge demand for new product, young filmmakers like Fred Olen Ray, David DeCoteau, Charles Band and Roger Corman set up their own independent studios to churn out dozens and dozens of films that went straight to video. I also think the 1980s were better known for horror comedies. Many of the films I did back then were rather innocent and fun-loving. Later, horror got much gorier and mean-spirited.

HUMPHREY: Did you take “Brinke” as your stage name after starting in the film industry, or was it a nickname prior to that?

STEVENS: My maiden name was Charlene Elisabeth Brinkman, and all my childhood friends called me “Brink”. When I married Dave Stevens in 1980, I adopted “Brinke Stevens” as my stage-name.

HUMPHREY: Of all of your films, what was your favorite movie and role, and why?

STEVENS: Haunting Fear (1990) was the biggest part I’d had so far. When director Fred Olen Ray sent me the script, I thought he had me in mind for the sexy secretary. But no! The lead, a woman whose cheating husband drives her crazy to collect her inheritance. A very complex role. On any given day, I had to ask myself, “How crazy am I today?” By the end, I played it totally insane. It was an amazing opportunity to stretch my range as an actress.

HUMPHREY: Where would you like to see the future of your career heading?

STEVENS: More of the same: acting, writing, directing, producing.

HUMPHREY: You said in an interview in Invasion of the Scream Queens that you hoped to one day “graduate” from B movies. Do you feel you achieved that goal?

STEVENS: Not at all! I was so typecast in B-movies that I was never able to break through that glass ceiling. However, there’s been a real advantage to being an indie horror star, i.e., a big fish in a small pond, like getting hired for my name-value without having to audition.

HUMPHREY: What is your definition of a “Scream Queen” and do you think there are current day “Scream Queens”?

STEVENS: By happy accident, I was in the right place at the right time. I was given that label in the late 1980s, after screaming (and usually dying) in so many horror films. It’s often said that me, Linnea Quigley, and Michelle Bauer were the three original Scream Queens. A decade later, I was also very impressed with Debbie Rochon and Tiffany Shepis. I doubt it’s even possible to follow in our footsteps anymore, because the indie studio system no longer exists. It’s a catchy title, and I don’t mind being called that. At least it’s got the word “Queen” in it. Makes me feel like horror film royalty.

John Humphrey and Brinke Stevens at Dragon-Con in Atlanta, Georgia.
John Humphrey and Brinke Stevens at Dragon-Con in Atlanta, Georgia.

HUMPHREY: Which of your films do your fans most often inquire about?

STEVENS: My favorite film Haunting Fear (1990) was never released on DVD (except bootlegged), so it’s the one movie that everyone wants to see.

HUMPHREY: What’s the one project you’ve always wanted to do but have yet to be able to?

STEVENS: A while back, I was cast in a vampire movie to be shot in the Philippines. I’d have big black wings, and flying wire-work would definitely be involved. I’ve never done that before, and it seems so very exciting! The film shoot hasn’t happened yet, due to financial setbacks… but I sure hope to play that winged Vampire Queen someday.

HUMPHREY: What do you feel has been your most important professional accomplishment?

STEVENS: All of it, really – the sum of the parts. To some people, it may not seem like a proud accomplishment to become a B-movie star. But hey, I DID it… to the absolute BEST that I could… and a lot of people were entertained. I’ve acted in almost 200 films, sold a half-dozen scripts and published my own comic book, co-produced several documentaries (like Shock Cinema), and I just directed Personal Demons, a film I also wrote and starred in. For me, it’s been a very fulfilling life so far.

HUMPHREY: What is your favorite book, and why?

STEVENS: I’ve had many favorite books over the years. One that’s remained on my shelf is “Bridge of Birds” by Barry Hughart. It’s a magical-realism novel of an ancient China that never was. He’s a wonderful writer, very evocative.

HUMPHREY: What is your favorite film, and why?

STEVENS: I enjoy many of the old classics like Laura (1944) with Gene Tierney, and Portrait of Jennie (1948) with Jennifer Jones. Those actresses were so luminously beautiful; they really stole the screen.

HUMPHREY: In your life, who has been the greatest positive influence on your career?

STEVENS: When I was a young girl, seeing Maleficent (in Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty) made me gasp, “I want to BE her!” Since then, I’ve channeled that evil queen in many of my films.

HUMPHREY: What is your next project?

STEVENS: Directing The Halloween Party in Orlando, Florida for producer Rick Danford.

HUMPHREY: Who is Brinke Stevens today?

STEVENS: Older, wiser, and happier in general because I don’t stress over the little things anymore.

Brinke’s official web site: http://www.brinke.com

 

 

BOFCA Podcast #14 – ‘Snowpiercer,’ ‘Scanners,’ ‘Blazing Saddles’ and More!

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Director Bong Joon-ho’s SNOWPIERCER screens July 4–13 at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square. ©2014 RADiUS-TWC

IT’S TIME … for some movie discussion!

On this episode of the Boston Online Film Critic’s Association podcast, members Bob Chipman, Dave Reidel and Steve Head discuss films screening this month at The Brattle Theater, The Coolidge Corner Theater, The Harvard Film Archive, The Somerville Theater and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, including Snowpiercer, Conan the Barbarian, Metropolis, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Scanners, Blazing Saddles and more.

Click on the media player below and enjoy the show!

Play

‘Duck Dynasty: Duck Days of Summer,’ Ducks out of Water [DVD Review]

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Phil in paradise. ©AEN/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

The duck clan is back in a special three episode set that takes the gang out of their comfort zone immensely. A trip to Hawaii, an RV adventure, and a redneck water park all come together to bring forth the heat in Duck Dynasty: Duck Days of Summer. These episodes are taken from the popular television show on A&E called Duck Dynasty. It is a show ultimately about family. The Robertson family are all very close and run the family business together. Duck calls are their business which provides a new kind of show to be produced.

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DUCK DYNASTY: DUCK DAYS OF SUMMER on DVD. ©AEN/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

When you see these characters you would not think they were wealthy or as famous as they are. It all started with Phil Robertson making duck calls for hunters. His son Willie went to business school and then took the family to new heights. They all have huge, bushy beards and play to the redneck stereotype almost too much, but when you see where they live your judgment will change. The show takes place in Louisiana and centers around the family’s everyday life. It is depicted as a reality show, but it seems scripted almost seventy-five percent of the time. The laughs sound forced and the redneck stereotype is brought up so blatantly that it is obviously just for the show. The humor that is present comes from the ridiculousness of the situations they find themselves in. Si, the uncle, is hilarious. He stands out and constantly has something to say, even if you can’t understand him half the time.

Three episodes focusing on the theme of summer are included in this set. “Sweatin’ Bullets”, “Redneck Roadtrip”, and “Aloha, Robertson’s!” are all featured with the last one being an extended episode. In “Sweatin’ Bullets” the air conditioning breaks at the office when it is extremely hot outside. Everyone is drenched in sweat so Willie calls in a guy named Mountain Man to fix it. He is probably the least qualified person to fix it. He is very lazy and hard to communicate with. While this is going on the family ditches Willie there to go build a “redneck water park” down by a lake. The water park seems really fun with a slip and slide along with a tire swing hanging from a construction vehicle. Even though it appears fun, it is also very dangerous looking. They are grown men which is fine, but when the children started using it I was waiting for a hospital visit to be shown.

A RV trip commences in the second episode “Redneck Vacation”. Willie gets an RV for the business that has their Duck Dynasty logo on the side above all of their faces. His brother Jase thinks it would be a good idea for him to “borrow” the keys to it and go pick up some other vehicles to tow back. Jase believes that if his face is on the side he should be allowed to drive it whenever. When on the trip their is a hilarious police encounter that is not to be missed. The gang stinks up the bus in unpleasant ways and forces Si to ride in one of the vehicles being towed. When the police pull them over for him riding back there, he has to explain to them why he has left the bus. This part provides some laughs, but the rest of the episode is pretty mediocre.

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Departing the resort. ©AEN/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

The last episode “Aloha, Robertson’s!” is slightly longer than the others, but is the best one of the three. Willie plans a present to his family and surprises them with a trip to Hawaii. This takes everybody for a loop since that isn’t the normal type of place for them to visit. It provides a very interesting fish out of water effect. While at the resort they are staying at, the family splits up into different parts. Willie wants everyone to follow his itinerary for the trip because he has activities planned. Phil and his wife Kay, stay in their room for most of the time watching the Jason Bourne trilogy. The women do not want to go either and stay by the pool while Willie is forced to only bring Jase, Si, and the children. The activities he has planned are not what they were intended to be when they try to go on a Jungle Adventure. They get their and are provided with Segways to navigate through what looks like a garden. It was meant to be funny, but I found it boring and not needed. One activity that they do that was interesting was learning how to surf. The children ditch the adults here to go look at girls leaving the three adults and Willie’s daughter. The daughter gets up on the board and looks like a natural surfer. Willie on the other hand was terrible at it. Seeing him try was a highlight of the episode because you wouldn’t normally see people that aren’t accustomed to this lifestyle put this much heart into it.

After watching the three episodes there is a bonus interview with Uncle Si that you can watch if you want to see more of this crazy kook. It is only him talking to the camera, but if you are a fan of Si, it is definitely worth checking out. I had never watched Duck Dynasty before this DVD and I probably won’t get hooked on the show in the future. However, I can easily see the appeal for the millions of people that watch the show. Seeing a family of duck call manufacturers and their life is not a very common experience. Although it has the impression of being heavily scripted, the dedication this family has to each other is inspiring and is worth a look.

Coming Soon From Scream Factory: ‘Leviathan,’ ‘Motel Hell’ and ‘The Vincent Price Collection II’

There’s cool stuff happening over at Scream Factory.

Beyond their much anticipated release of Clive Barker’s original cut of Night Breed (what was known as The Cabal Cut is now the Extended Director’s Cut), here’s a few forthcoming titles to get psyched about. So imagine these on your shelf…

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1) The Vincent Price Collection II (Blu-ray)

A few days ago, Scream Factory debuted illustrator Joel Robinson’s artwork for this Blu-ray set, which will be released on October 21st.

The collection includes: The Last Man on Earth (’64), The Raven (’63), Return of the Fly (’59), Tomb of Ligeia (’64), The Comedy of Terrors (’63), Dr. Phibes Rises Again (’72) and William Castle’s The House on Haunted Hill (’59).

The sets’ extra features are still TBD.

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2) George P. Cosmatos’ Leviathan (Blu-ray)

Released during Hollywood’s breif, 1989 love affair with “underwarter aliens” (its sisters being of course The Abyss, Deep Star Six, and Roger Corman’s Lords of the Deep [roll eyes, palm to forehead]), and in the wake of star Peter Weller’s Robocop popularity, Leviathan features a lovely Ms. Amanda Pays and a very not lovely creature, that you know, disposes of nearly everyone.

It’s Leviathan‘s Blu-ray debut, and it comes with new extras: interviews with Hector Elizondo, Ernie Hudson, creature effects artist Alec Gillis, and creature effects artist Tom Woodruff Jr.

Street date is August 19th.

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3) Motel Hell: Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)

It’s also Motel Hell‘s debut on Blu-ray, and Scream Factory went all Let’s Make That Motel Hell Disc Our Bitch with a nice collection of special features:

• New: Audio commentary with director Kevin Connor, moderated by filmmaker Dave Parker
• New: “It Takes All Kinds: The Making of Motel Hell” featuring interviews with director Kevin Connor, producers/writers Robert Jaffe and Steven Charles Jaffe and actor Marc Silver
• New: “Shooting Old School” with cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth
• “Another Head on the Chopping Block” – An interview with actor Paul Linke
• “From Glamour to Gore” – An interview with actress Rosanne Katon
• “Ida, Be Thy Name” – A look back at Motel Hell’s frightful female protagonist Ida Smith

Street date is August 12th.

La La Land Releases ‘Empire of the Sun’ Expanded Archival Collection Soundtrack

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Well, it’s about fucking time! Because no prior version of the soundtrack to Empire of the Sun ever really did the film justice.

Until now.

La La Land Records (you have to love a company named La La Land) has released the Empire of the Sun: Expanded Archival Collection 2CD Soundtrack, and they’ve added about as much as can be added to a soundtrack without including a track entitled “Kitchen Sink.” Just lots of coolness here.

To get the complete story on the making of this set, you’ll need to head on over to JWFan.com. They’ve added two exclusive features: 1) Producer Mike Matessino on the Making of the Empire of the Sun 2CD Set and 2) Empire of the Sun: Cue Lists and Additional Notes.

The set itself can be purchased here.

The Making of ‘And So It Goes’ – An Interview with Director Rob Reiner, Part 1

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We recently talked with director Rob Reiner at a roundtable interview in Boston, and of all the things he had to say, what struck me most was: “[studios] wouldn’t make any of the pictures I’ve made, and they don’t make any of the ones I’m about to, you know, making now.”

I thought Rob Reiner’s films were mostly a studio’s kinda thing, you know? I mean, the man directed Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride. The Princess Bride for God sakes! You’d think studios would say “YES” to these things. I guess that even if you’ve made at least three great (and now classic) films, things just don’t get that much easier when it comes to selling the bosses on your next project.

And So It Goes … is Mr. Reiner’s latest film. Click here for the official site and to check out the trailer.

Participating in our roundtable discussion about the making of And So It Goes was fellow Boston Online Film Critics Association member and frequent podcast guest Brett Michel.

For the coolness of it, and because it’s featured in the movie and is an integral part of its tone, here’s Judy Collins and The Boston Pops performing “Both Sides Now.”

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STEPHEN SLAUGHTER HEAD: Can I ask you a question about … I’ll phrase it this way … maybe it’s about getting older. Does it get easier to direct?

ROB REINER: Yes. It does get easier in that you don’t spend your time doing things that are not essential. You learn what’s important, what’s not important, and you don’t spin your wheels in areas that are not important. So it does get easier from that standpoint. The hard part is that you’re older, so it’s physically taxing. But you learn where you need to spend your energy and not. I watched last night, I don’t know if you watch the NBA Finals, but you look at Tim Duncan. The guy is 38 years-old. I mean, that’s an old guy for a basketball player, and he played the whole season. But you watch the way he plays, and he can put in a lot of minutes, but he got the most out of the minute he played. So even if he’s only playing 20-minutes, he’s still scoring his 15 points because he knows what he needs to do, and so that’s the part that becomes a little easier.

HEAD: Would you say that it’s like you become better at delegating things? You know where you don’t need to waste your time?

REINER: Yes, you learn. You know, what I’ve always said is, when you’re making a movie, especially movies I make, that the studios would never make – I mean, they wouldn’t make any of the pictures I’ve made, and they don’t make any of the ones I’m about to, you know, making now – you have limited budgets, you have limited amounts of time, and so you learn that there are certain things that are not essential that you can lose. But you never cut into a vital organ though, never! Then you’ve destroyed your project. But you do learn how to delegate. There are certain things that are really important and there are certain things that are not as important, and you can let them go. But when you’re young, you’re just hopped-up by everything – every little thing. You know, I learned, and I learned as they went along.

There’s a great moment in … it’s a Truffaut film. It’s called Day for Night and it’s all about movie-making. And a guy comes up to [Truffaut] and says, “Do you want the red cup or the blue cup?” And you can agonize over that, you know? And then you [think] … You know something? In the scheme of this picture it’s not going to matter that much. Yeah, there’s probably a better choice. But if you agonize over that and spin your wheels over that you’re going to lose a bigger picture.

HEAD: Steven Soderbergh said that as he’s progressed in the business, the people he’s working with, the people he’s going to get permissions to [make a film] are now more like his fans and admirers as opposed to colleagues. Is this a similar experience for you now?

REINER: Well, yeah, because the people who are running either the movie companies or the TV … they’re younger, they’re all younger by virtue, by definition they have to be because you can’t run these companies without that energy, unless you’re my friend Alan Horn. He is the only guy I know that has the energy to be able to do it.

So yeah, there’s always people that will look at you like, “Oh, I grew up on your movies!” And basically what you want to say is, “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.” I mean, you want them to just basically accept and know that you have experience, and certainly you know how to do the things you have experienced that you’re going to bring [your movie] in on time and on budget and it’s all going to work. But you know, judge this thing for what it is. I mean, what the script is. Is this something you’re interested in? You don’t want to be making a movie just because you’re a fan. You want to be making it because it’s something you feel that’s going to work for your company or your outlet. So you know, I think it’s a double-edge sword here.

Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton. ©Clarius Entertainment
Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton in AND SO IT GOES. ©Clarius Entertainment

HEAD: Has it made you feel less comfortable?

REINER: No, because you know it’s nice when people say, “I love your work” and “I grew up in your films” and others quoting your lines. I mean, that’s really nice. It makes you feel good, you know, that you’ve actually done things that touch people; that are substate with them or whatever. So that parts good.

BRETT MICHEL: You must have a pretty dedicated crew that you work with at this point though.

REINER: Well, I used to have the same crew all the time when I made pictures in Los Angeles, but I can’t make pictures in Los Angeles anymore because they’re too expensive to. You don’t get a tax break, so I’ve had to go where, you know, the tax breaks are. I made a picture Michigan, I made one New York, now I’ve made one in Connecticut.

Now, the last two pictures I did, I made with the same [director of photography]. I was lucky to get the same DP. And I love her, you know, so I’m hoping I can work with her, but…

MICHEL: Did you shoot with the Alexa [camera]?

REINER: Yeah, I love that. You know I love all the digital stuff. I’m not like old-school, we have to be … There’s no film anymore anyway. You know, Kodak’s out of business and all that stuff. I’m not one of those people that says, “It has to be on film.”

MICHEL: But do you miss film?

REINER: Do I miss film? You know, I don’t. To me, I’m a storyteller. I came at this as an actor and writer and a storyteller. To me it’s about telling a story. I’m not a cinematographer or a film guy. I didn’t go to film school where all of those things are important, you know. But I want to just tell a story, and whatever the tools are there, are to tell a story, that’s what I’ll use, you know?

And I love the Avid [editing system]. When I started working, I would work on a moviola, which is an upright thing, and then I went to the cam and then to the Avid. but I love the Avid because you can see right away if you’ve made a good decision. You can undo it and then redo it. You know, when you shoot it and [edit] it on the cutting bench you’ve got to take the real down you’ve got to redo it and it takes forever.

MICHEL: Well, [with digital photography] you’ll be able to get a lot more shots done during the day.

REINER: You can. I mean, it’s not that much quicker in terms of lighting. It’s not that much quicker.

MICHEL: But you don’t have to load [the camera with film].

REINER: No, you don’t have to load, you can run a take over and over. You don’t have to worry about the film running out and having to reload.

JOURNALIST: Kind of following up on that a little bit, I was really fascinated by the opening tracking shot of the film. Did you get a copter for that?

REINER: It’s a drone. That’s the only way to do a shot like that, because with a helicopter … first of all, you can’t get close enough on the streets, and the blades and rotors would make everything flop in the wind. You couldn’t get that close. And a crane would never follow that. So it’s a little drone. You know, you’ve seen them. It’s done remotely and they mount a camera on it

MICHEL: How big is the camera for that? That wouldn’t have been the Alexa.

REINER: No, it’s a small camera. It’s a very small camera that you can load on there. And you know, we did [the shot] a number of times. You pick the location where you want, where you’re going to go from here to there, and it’s a design thing. You have to really design it. And the shot that we used, the one that’s in the film … the drone crashed. We took every frame of it until it flew down and hit the ground.

MICHEL: You didn’t have to [edit] anything together?

REINER: No, because it’s only one shot. There’s no cuts. There’s no cutaway.

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And So It Goes opens nationwide July 18th.

‘Ride For Lance,’ a Personal Film Meant as Inspiration to All [DVD Review]

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On the Lance Vaccaro Memorial Ride.

“The Legacy of My Teammates Steadies My Resolve.” Since the time of the Samurai and the Spartans, the warrior code of ethos has served to guide and strengthen the members of elite fighting teams. These words from the US Navy SEAL Code, honor those who have sacrificed all and inspire those yet to come.

© 2014 Anchor Bay Entertainment
© 2014 Anchor Bay Entertainment

June 28th marks the ninth anniversary of Operation Red Wings, where 19 US Navy SEALs lost their lives in Afghanistan while on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. Marcus Lutrell’s book Lone Survivor gives the details as only one of the SEAL team members can describe. The film by the same name was based closely on the book with Marcus Lutrell acting as advisor to the production. Even the actors had to undergo rigorous training to learn the tactics and skills of the SEALs they were to portray. You see, this is the story of the team, told so their sacrifice would always be remembered, and to steady the resolve of those still in the field.

Ride For Lance is the second biopic by Director Scott Mactavish, himself a US Navy veteran. His 2013 documentary, MURPH The Protector, focused on the life and sacrifice of Navy SEAL LT Michael P. Murphy. In the film, Murph’s family and friends recount their memories as we see his life come full circle, and his enduring legacy. The true heroism of Michael Murphy’s final days became even more vivid in the film Lone Survivor, where we feel we are fighting alongside Murph (portrayed by Taylor Kitsch) and his team in the remote Afghan mountains. Although the larger budget and known actors appeal to a larger audience, it is through the words of those who know these warriors best, that we also know them more intimately, and in turn see them as real people and real heroes.

Mactavish realizes that the story of someone’s life is best told by those they knew, with his documentary film style knitting us into their family. Following a tragic parachute accident that took the life of his fellow SEAL team member, Chief Petty Officer Lance Vaccaro, the director helped launch the Lance Vaccaro Memorial Ride. On June 17, 2010, four Navy SEAL motorcycle riders departed Virginia Beach, Virginia and headed toward Alaska. The 31-day journey covered 12,000 miles and connected with thousands of lives. Each tale of sacrifice, pain and pride carries us further along the journey. Ride For Lance is a personal film, and is meant as inspiration to all and a salute to the veterans and heroes who have paid the ultimate price for their dedication.

Murph: The Protector.
Lt. Michael P. Murphy (left). ©Mactavish Pictures

It would be impossible to tell the complete story of each and every veteran, although they deserve the recognition. If they could speak, though, I think each would disagree. Through the words of their family members and friends, we learn that these elite warriors care more for their teammates than themselves. Their strength is derived from their bond. Each a link in a chain that can’t exist without each other. We can not remember one without speaking of the rest. They are true heroes. They are unified. They are the tip of the spear.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the DVD go to the Navy SEAL Foundation, in perpetuity.

Release Date: August 26, 2014
Anchor Bay Entertainment
86 minutes
Not Rated

Wes Anderson’s Artistic Masterpiece, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ [Blu-ray Review]

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

Ever since that day in 1994 when Wes Anderson unveiled his short film Bottle Rocket it was clear that his vision and style was unlike anything seen before. Through charming storytelling and unique cinematography Wes Anderson has created many diverse worlds through the years. In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou he explored the lives of people at sea and the turmoils and hardships that come with the isolation. In Moonrise Kingdom he entered the world of Khaki scouts and showed us that love can be found in the strangest of places. Anderson’s latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel, based on the writings of Stefan Zweig, gives birth to a whole new world for his characters to stir up trouble in. The film’s title is very fitting for it is “grand” in every way imaginable. I would even go as far as saying that this is not merely a film, but a piece of art. The way it is constructed and put together is similar to the way a painter strokes a brush along a canvas. Every stroke is distinctive and tells a story within itself, just like every frame of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Each scene, character, and event has a purpose that leads to a bigger vision which proves to be beautiful and heartwarming all around.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

The film takes place in three different time periods, each with their own aspect ratio. Using different aspect ratios throughout a film is not common, but Wes Anderson executes it perfectly. When the screen switches it helps the mind maintain what time frame events are transpiring in. It opens up on a shot of a girl sitting down on a bench next to a statue with an abundance of keys hanging on it. The aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is used for this time frame. She pulls out a book and begins to read “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. On the back is a picture of the writer (Tom Wilkinson) and it instantly takes you to an introduction to the story by the writer himself. He recounts a trip he took to the hotel where he met an individual that inspired the book itself. Transitioning into the 1960’s the aspect ratio changes to 2.35:1 and the actor playing the writer changes to Jude Law. He comes across as a young and lesser experienced writer. The hotel is in it’s “off season” making it look desolate and run down. With such a small amount of guests staying at the hotel everyone pretty much knows everybody else. One day the writer notices someone new and seeks out information from the current concierge (Jason Schwartzman). The man turns out to be Zero Moustafa, the owner of the The Grand Budapest Hotel. After having a conversation in a room full of bathtubs Zero is touched by the writer’s genuine interest in his story. This scene is magnificently crafted using every detail to bring forth emotions. The set is designed using different shades of blue and symmetry between the sides of the room. When the camera is set low you can see how every tub matches up perfectly against the other in the frame. It is almost an illusion causing the room to seem much longer than it is. After they leave, they sit together for dinner where Zero begins to unveil his touching story about his journey at the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Time jumps back to the 1930’s when the hotel is in it’s prime. This time frame is presented in the aspect ratio 1.33:1, also known as the “Academy Ratio”. Wes Anderson had stated that he always wanted to film something in that ratio and with The Grand Budapest Hotel requiring three, an opportunity presented itself. The hotel in the past is divine in nature. Anderson chose to build a miniature model to showcase the establishing shots. He likes to use these models in many of his movies and in my opinion, the only one that can pull them off. On top of a mountain sits the hotel with a funicular railway leading up to it from the bottom. A funicular railway is one that does not go on a straight track, but an inclined one similar to going up to the top at the beginning of a roller coaster. I believe this small addition gives it character and sets it aside from other hotels. The building is painted in elegant shades of pinks that make the purple uniforms of the employees pop out.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

The story opens up on Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Skyfall) as the concierge of the hotel Gustave H., his last name is a mystery. Fiennes brings this character to life in a comical way. Gustave is a very serious man. He is well organized and well admired, especially by older women. He has a thing for older women and takes most of them to bed. As sophisticated as he is, the eccentric side to him is just as strong. It is a clever mix that brings forth much humor throughout the film. The narrator Zero, is introduced next as a young lobby boy in training. Younger Zero (Tony Revolori) is a very enthusiastic individual eager to learn everything he can from the great M. Gustave. Zero sees The Grand Budapest as an “institution” which causes Gustave to see promise in the young boy. Every inch of the hotel interior that is shown is intricate in design. Beauty is all that is seen making up the different rooms of the hotel. Even the design of the elevator is special. Painted in a bright vibrant red, the inside will give you chills. The purple uniforms practically jump off the screen when shown inside the elevator. This makes every separate ride look like a new painting is being created on screen.

Everything changes in Gustave’s scheduled life when one of his older companions (Tilda Swinton) is murdered. He is called to the reading of her will curiously. There her estranged family gathers from all parts of the world. Among them are two shady individuals, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and Jopling (Willem Dafoe), that have the auora of evil surrounding them. Willem Dafoe keeps a menacing stare that doesn’t change for the entire film. Greed fills the air as the will is read. At the end of the will she leaves Gustave a painting by the name of “Boy With Apple”. The painting is supposedly priceless. Chaos is all that ensues after Gustave’s next action. Knowing the family is furious, he steals the painting with Zero to take back home with him. Dmitri retaliates by framing Gustave for the murder.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

Seeing Gustave in a prison is hilarious. He is completely out of his comfort zone and forced to adjust. At one point there is a planned prison escape that is smart and very true to Aderson’s style of filmmaking. The plan is elaborate and one of the longest escapes I’ve ever seen. The group of escapees go up and down enormous distances and pretty much go through every area of the prison. It is drawn out just enough to showcase how “ridiculous” this world is. These types of sequences throughout the film however, are what makes it so great. The ridiculous nature of Gustave’s world is what is so appealing. After Gustave escapes he makes a call for help to “The Society of Keys” that sparks another drawn out sequence. Although drawn out, it is intelligent and makes the world this film takes place in much, much bigger. Concierges from all over are forming in response to Gustave’s need for help. Bill Murray is even among these concierges and is the one that sends Gustave and Zero further on their adventure. The pair have to dodge much more trouble later on, but form a bond of friendship that gives the film the heart it needs to stand out above all others.

Within the chaos and disorder also lies a charming love story between Zero and a girl he meets named Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). Agatha works at a local business named Mendl’s creating delicious pastries. Zero is very protective over her when Gustave tries to constantly flirt with her. His eyes are full of genuine care whenever he gazes at her. I think the reason Anderson decided to put this side of the story in place was to teach the audience a specific lesson. Through all the war and turmoil in the film, there is always room for hope and love. Horrific things can happen to a person, but hope and love can always keep someone going and help them survive. The chemistry between the pair is enchanting and really brings out the soul of the film.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

When picking up your copy of The Grand Budapest Hotel, I definitely recommend getting the Blu-ray edition. The Blu-ray has a long list of special features included that the DVD version does not. Bill Murray tours the town of Gorlitz where most of the film takes place. The small town has tons of character and the residents seem to be very happy. Also included is a section focusing on The Society of Crossed Keys. A look into the way hotels used to be run is provided. Apparently concierges back then were very well connected just like Gustave. Other special features included are Kunst Museum Zubrowka Lecture, The Making of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mendl’s Secret Recipe, and much more. There are four featurettes that give the viewer a look into the mind of Wes Anderson and how it works. The way he makes his films is so intriguing and there is a reason why so many stars make up the cast. Anderson brings about a certain comradery between all those that work on his films. They have fun and that is what filmmaking is all about.

Wes Anderson has come a long way from his first film Bottle Rocket. His style which was defined so long ago has not lost it’s touch, but become stronger. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a treasure among films. Anderson is a true artist of his trade and continues to captivate the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. In the film Gustave speaks of glimpses of humanity still existing within all the destruction in the world. This idea seems to span over all of Anderson’s works, and he is by far the perfect person to bring it to the screen. Underneath all of the characters he creates there is good among all of them. Gustave took that glimpse of humanity and made it as real as it can get. Anderson’s set of films will always be on their own level of existence. There is meaning behind everything he creates and that is where the magic in his films comes from. If you enjoy his work I recommend picking up a copy of the book “The Wes Anderson Collection” by Matt Zoller Seitz. It is filled with essays, interviews, production photos, and much more information on all of his works leading up to this film. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a model of perfection and I feel privileged to have had the chance to enjoy it.

Podcast #194 – Nerdist’s ‘Zero Charisma,’ Olive Films’ ‘The Pawnbroker’ (’64), ‘FLYING TIGERS’ (’42) and More!

Sam Eidson and in ZERO CHARISMA. ©Tribecca Film ©Nerdist Industries
Sam Eidson and in ZERO CHARISMA. ©Tribecca Film ©Nerdist Industries

Steve Head and John Black discuss the new Blu-ray and DVD releases: Nerdist Industries’ Zero Charisma; Olive Films’ The Pawnbroker (1964) and Flying Tigers (1942); Criterion’s Breaking the Waves (1996); Mill Creeks’ Gamera: Ultimate Collections Vols. I & II and more!

Remember: if you leave us an iTunes review, you will have done perhaps the most wonderful thing we can ask for!

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School Kids Perform an Amazing Cover of Tangerine Dream’s “Loved by the Sun”

Mia Sara in 1985's LEGEND. ©Universal Pictures
Mia Sara in 1985’s LEGEND. ©Universal Pictures

There are soundtrack purists who consider Jerry Goldsmith’s score for 1985’s Legend the greatest rejected film score of all time. I am one of those purists. However, Tangerine Dream’s American-release score for Legend has unquestionable merits – in particular the ending track “Loved by the Sun” with its lead vocal by Yes’ Jon Anderson.

Ohio music teacher Aaron Okeefe certainly is a fan of Tangerine Dream’s score. He had his class of young musicians perform an amazing cover of “Loved by the Sun,” which you can check out right here…