Brianne Kathleen: How The Rain Goes [Album]

Brianne Kathleen - How the Rain Goes - Coming soon!There are certain artists out there we all consider their word as bond, and whoever they vouch for to be equally worth listening to or should be admired as an equal to said artist.  I know I am not alone in this thought, we are all guilty of this line of thinking.  But, is this such a bad thing?  Absolutely not, especially when it is a brilliant singer/songwriter/all around genius musician like Bradley Wik who is advertently suggesting what we should be listening to right now.  Especially when he suggest an album he played a little guitar on and co-produced entitled How the Rain Goes from the wonderful Portland based singer/songwriter Brianne Kathleen.  He really hit the nail the head with this one, and I am personally grateful he was kind enough to let us know about this brilliant artist.

Brianne Kathleen is an artist with an amazing set of vocal chords that stand out in the city of Roses, a city filled with amazing artists with amazing vocals.  And it is almost uncanny how natural it seems to Brianne to stand out amongst her peers.  She sings oh-so-sweetly, yet matter of factly enough whether she is breaking it down with a country-esque slow but steady swing on a track “Where Does Your Heart Go?”, or tossing in a bit of rockabilly meets hipster driven folk blended greatness on “So Afraid” (Note: I have not had the opportunity, but I feel like this is the track that you MUST see her perform live.  I hope to do so someday).  But, if it where indeed necessary to choose a stand out track from this, one of the finest albums of 2014, it has to be “Paper Bag Dreams”.  Much like her friend Mr. Wik, this is a lady who obviously understands the power of metaphor and the draw of lost dreams and tortured souls.  “Paper Bag Dreams” is one of those tracks you will surely find yourself listening to over and over again, simply to answer an undying question for your own mind’s sake…. Why does this seem so damn personal?

There are many artist out there who are “like” Brianne Kathleen.  So many comparisons can be drawn to this wonderful artist.  But, she is also one of those artists that you really shouldn’t care to scapegoat in such a manner.  We should simply be able to realize that Brianne Kathleen is a wonderful artist who takes very little effort to fall in love with.  With powerful lyrics, a great group of friends, and voice to pine over, How The Rain Goes is an obvious gem of an album, and a brilliant sophomore effort from Brianne.  And with that, brings the hope that we will soon have the chance to hear even more from this brilliant musician.

How the Rain Goes is available now.  Pick up a copy for yourself at her WEBSITE.

(Official music video for “Where Does Your Heart Go?”)

Grace After Midnight by Felicia “Snoop” Pearson & David Ritz [Book]

Grace After MidnightWhile Felicia is a brilliant actor in a truly chilling role, what’s most remarkable about “Snoop” is what she has overcome in her life. Snoop was born a three-pound cross-eyed crack baby in East Baltimore. Those streets are among the toughest in the world, but Snoop was tougher. The runt of the ghetto showed an early aptitude for drug slinging and violence and thrived as a baby gangsta until she landed in Jessup state penitentiary after killing a woman in self-defense. There she rebelled violently against the system, and it was only through the cosmic intervention of her mentor, Uncle Loney, that she turned her life around. A couple of years ago, Snoop was discovered in a nightclub by one of The Wire’s cast members and quickly recruited to be one of television’s most frightening and intriguing villains.

- GOODREADS.COM

 

Unlike the rest of the world, I didn’t manage to come across a certain HBO show that simply changed the world, right under my ignorant nose.  The Wire went off the air over 6 years ago, but I figured it was never to late to see what all the fuss was about.  And as I mentioned in our previous interview with one of the show’s stars, Michael Kostroff, I was absolutely smitten with this delightful piece of television drama that was gritty as hell, and downright fucking nerve-racking to watch at times.  And no character truly exemplified the gritty realness and instability of the streets of Baltimore like the cold-blooded killer Snoop, who was 1/2 responsible for the couple of dozen bodies that laid slain in the abandon buildings of Baltimore using nothing more than cold ass heart and an expensive nail gun.

But, what if you were to learn that there was indeed some truth behind this fascinating character?  What if there the space between reality and fantasy wasn’t nearly as wide as you originally imagined?  It’s easy to understand that any kind of fictional television or film drama is normally based on some sort of truth.  But, what if the truth was fiction than you could ever imagine possible?  Well, if you can’t, you would do yourself a world of good to check out Felicia “Snoop” Pearson’s memoir, Grace After Midnight.

Now Real Snoop is not a cold-blooded killer who leaves bodies to rot simply because that’s “just the way it is.”  In fact, nowadays, she is about as far from something of that nature as possible.  But, Real Snoop and Fake Snoop were once very similar.  It should be evident enough that David Simon and folks behind The Wire wanted this woman with no previous acting credits, a girl straight from the streets in which they were suppose to be portraying, to not only star as a very important figure in the show, but to even keep not only her own name, but her own identity.  Felicia “Snoop” Pearson is about as close to the overall story of Baltimore that The Wire tended to portray to the world.  In fact, I would find it safe to say that Snoop IS the story of Baltimore.  Albeit a sad and disturbing one at times, but the real story.

michael-williams-snoop-sxsw-2013-the-jasmine-brand

Snoop with Michael K. Williams at SXSW 2013

In very natural and stylistic prose, Snoop (with co-author credit going to David Ritz) runs through the series of events as well as some prime examples of what it meant to live and ride in East Baltimore to kick off the book. Her matter-of-factly type prose is somewhat frightening even.  You can watch enough hood movies and episodes of The Wire, but when you hear these stories first hand, and in such a nonchalant fashion, it just might scare the shit out of you.  What is most disturbing is indeed how Snoop can describe events like being 10 years old and shooting a boy in the leg for being a bully with such ease and simplicity that it has that “agh, that was nothing” feel to it.  Or watching another man’s brains getting blown straight out the top of their head, and simply keeping a cold dark stair to the shooter mere feet from you.  If you have never experience such darkness, there is simply no way you could ever understand.  I don’t pretend to, but I am indeed fascinated.

But, with such darkness, there is always a light.  Snoops story of ending up in prison as a teenager is probably world renowned by now.  During an act of self defense, Snoop found herself spending 6 years of her life behind bars.  And it was during her time of incarceration that Snoop truly had to “see the light”, so to speak.  We aren’t talking simply about some sort of God like presence, although if that is what you choose to believe, that might just be it.  All that can be said is that this courageous young woman felt, what she called, “grace after midnight”.  After the death of the man she called Uncle, the man who always had her best intentions at heart and cared for her as family, was gunned down in a drug deal gone bad, Snoop flipped her wig, lost her consciousness and almost lost her own life.  But, something happen.  Some sort of mysterious force came to her in the middle of the night, and she felt a grave change come over her.  A change for the better.

Snoop left incarceration at the age of 20 with a whole new outlook on life.  She was going to work hard and become the best person she knew she could definitely be.  She could be the person that would make Uncle and Mama proud.  And she tried, real fucking hard.  But in a serious turn of events that represents just one example of a serious problem in our country:  we are a nation that tends to say give a big middle finger to the rehabilitated who want nothing more than to change their lives around.  Fat cat asshole employers refuse to higher convicted criminals who have “paid their debt to society” (for whatever the hell that is really worth to these savages) and bust their ass on a car assembly or in a factory moving boxes.  It is the fear of the criminally charged that leads the hopeless ex-con back to the ways that got them thrown in jail in the first place.  And then we complain that our jails are overcrowded.  It is a devilish cycle simple doesn’t seem to have an end in sight, until some assholes open their eyes and decide to be the change that needs to happen.  Stop with this bullshit “trickle down economics” tactics and try some “throw down a bit of respect” to those you employ.  But, I digress……

Snoop soon found her way back on the corner and fighting against the law once again.  But, by a stroke of “luck” or “grace” or whatever it is, she found herself in just the right place at the right time to meet The Wire star Michael K. Williams, who obviously saw something that the show needed, and brought her into the life.  And, as they say, the rest is history.  But, it’s not the ending of the story that matters when you finally finish this powerful memoir.  This is a story of perseverance, struggle, striving, failing, loving, and trying.  Ms. Pearson is a woman who had obstacles thrown at her from the day she was born.  Sometimes these obstacles were brought on by her own accord or by simply ignoring the wonderful people around her who only wanted the best for her.  Other times it was a simple cause and effect structure of living the street life.  And while her Felicia Snoop Pearsonstory has some true specificity to it, her story is by large far from uncommon.  But in the end, Snoop has won the fight against herself, the fight against her environment, and the fight against the demons that haunt us all.  She left her old ways behind after kicking at so much darkness, that it simply had to bleed light.

To sum this book up in a just a few words, Nothing could exemplify Felicia “Snoop” Pearson better than her one last words in this haunting yet beautiful memoir:

“Where does the light come from?  And what do you call it?.  You can call it God.  You call it Jesus.  These names are good names.  But I call it the miracle of love.  I call it Grace After Midnight.”

Michael Kostroff [Interview]

Michael Kostroff1

Photo by Leslie Hassler http://lesliehassler.com

So, a few years ago there was this little show on HBO that people seemed to be really crazy about, that I sadly just never got around to watching called, The Wire.  Ever heard of it?  Well, of course you have heard of it, every-damn-body has!  But in this day and age of binge watching television shows at one’s leisure, some shows never seem out of reach, or impossible to appreciate many years later.  And The Wire is absolutely not exception.  When I finally got around to engrossing myself in one of the greatest stories ever told on television, I learned that they hype that the show had earned was entirely justified, for this was a damn great show!  And, hands down, one of the top reasons were well written characters that were performed by just the right actors and actresses.  And of my favorite characters, as I usually seem to enjoy, was a snide little side character who seemed to sneak his pesky little self into scenes more and more as time went on.  His name was Maurice Levy, Attorney at Law.  And he was portrayed by the brilliant Michael Kostroff.

As we are prone to do here at TWS, I decided to look into a bit more about this character I truly enjoyed hating so damn much.  And just as I expected, Mr. Kostroff has turned out to be one of the nicest actors I have spoken with since I began interviewing them at random.  But, really, I find it hard to believe that anyone could be as snake like and despicable as Maurice Levy, but in all honesty I don’t really know that many lawyers so I could be wrong.  Anyway, Mr. Kostroff has turned out to be a brilliant actor of the stage, film, and more television with a career that expands far beyond his stint on The Wire.  So, of course we want to learn more about this brilliant fella, as well as maybe ask a few questions about his time on of the most highly regarded television shows of all time.  So ladies and gentlemen, Michael Kostroff!

Looking back so many years later, what was your personal experience like for you on the set of The Wire? And was there any specific time that you realized you were a major part of something pretty magical? 

The truth is, I think I was just glad to be working. Naturally, I loved the role, and found the writing engaging and intriguing, and I was inspired again and again by the outrageously skilled actors with whom I got to work. But I hadn’t an inkling that I was taking part in TV history. Really, the show’s popularity snuck up on me. Originally, Levy was only going to appear in two episodes. They seemed to like the character, and kept writing him in. Even still, until the final season, the offers came one episode at a time.So I wasn’t even around often enough to get a real sense of the show we were shooting, or its impact.

I think the turning point was when people started recognizing me out in public. I don’t remember when that started, but it continues to this day, and I’ve had many opportunities to hear first-hand how highly regarded the series is. People want to talk about it. And I love that. (I will say, though, that the fact that lawyers seem to particularly love Maury Levy is just a tad troubling.)

How does one prepare to portray a greedy and smug son of a bitch character like Maurice Levy? When you first found out about this part, what were your thoughts on Maurice?

There was one phrase in the script for my first episode that told me a whole lot about Levy. The phrase was “you people.” Now, because I grew up around a lot of black folks, I know all too well what “you people” means. It’s a phrase that leaps out to those of us who hate prejudice. It means the speaker has pre-formed opinions about a whole group and feels qualified to talk about that group right to their faces. In this case, Levy might have meant “you Barksdale gang members,” but I don’t think so. I think he’s a rich, privileged white man who works for an all-black organization, takes their money and advises them, but privately thinks of them as animals. It’s a very ugly thing to know about a character, but one that really clarifies who he is. I fed off that information for the whole five seasons.

The smugness is something that was evident in the writing as well. It’s another trait that makes us really despise the character. But I think it’s realistic. I’ve seen people like this, lawyers and politicos especially, people who don’t just want to win, but who also want to show you how cleverly they’ve done it. Levy loves the chess game. He likes to say, in essence, “See what I did there?” Ooh! What an asshole! It’s kind of making me mad thinking about it.

People who know me in real life know how different I am from Levy. And that was part of the fun. I spent the whole five seasons amazed that I was getting away with convincing viewers I was this horrible bucket of slime. Viewers hate me. And I think that’s an accomplishment.

Michael Kostroff3

still from “The Wire”

The show has been off the air for a few years now, and has entered legend status. In your personal and professional opinion, what is it about The Wire that makes it continue to be such a popular show that is surely never to be forgotten?

Well, I think there are a lot of theories on that. For me, in addition to the extraordinarily brilliant writing, there are two things that come to mind:

First, it’s the nuances in the characters. They’re not simply good guys and bad guys, and they aren’t categorized by race, social status or profession. I think, in the past, members of a drug gang were simply portrayed as “the gang,” and the police were “the cops.” On this show, we have a drug dealer who has an interest in business, and another who takes meticulous care of his tropical fish. Some are reckless; some live by strict codes. Others would like to get out of the game. We have a hero who’s an irresponsible parent who drinks too much, but who’s also truly noble in a lot of ways. We have gay characters who aren’t all about being gay. We have cops interested in the status quo, and cops interested in making things better. And we have characters who change and grow. Levy is the only recurring character I can think of who is strictly a bad guy. Most of them are multi-faceted.

The second thing I think accounts for the show’s legendary status is its compelling stories of how broken our systems are. Well-meaning characters are thwarted again and again by red tape, apathy, greed, cynicism and some people’s investments in the failure of others. I’m not sure we’ve seen that story told in that way before. At least, not since Dickens.

You seem to be portraying a whole lot of attorneys since your days on The Wire…. do you ever feel pigeonholed in this respect? How do you do it differently each time, or is a repetitive gig?

Yes and no and yes and no. I’ve certainly played a lot of attorneys since The Wire, and actually, even before The Wire. I look like what viewers think of when they imagine an attorney. While stereotyping is a very bad practice in real life, it can be a very helpful practice in visual storytelling.

Yes, I’ve sometimes been a bit pigeonholed in my TV career. But you know what that means? It means I have a TV career. And that’s a great and very lucky thing. Over the years, I’ve played a dull lawyer (King of Queens), a compassionate lawyer (Law & Order: SVU), a laughing lawyer (Liar, Liar), an upscale lawyer (Studio 60), a lovesick lawyer (Cold Case) and on and on. The stories make each one different. Still, I admit, there have been those occasional times when I felt like I was punching a clock, putting on the suit, and doing what has become for me a no-brainer role.

Two things balance that out. One is that I do theatre, where I don’t think I’ve ever played a lawyer. I’ve been a disgusting tavern owner (Les Misérables), a hapless gambler (Guys and Dolls), an unhappy comedy writer (Laughter on the 23rd Floor), and so forth. The second welcome contrast is that in the past few years, TV casting directors have started putting me in roles that are vastly different from my usual fare. The most amazing one was the Cinemax series, Banshee, in which I played a reckless, longhaired, tattooed, Southern ex-con. I smoked, I drank, I got in a fight, I snorted coke. I have no idea how they thought to cast me in that role, but it was a blast. Overall, I think I have nothing to complain about.

In the theatre world, you starred in the hugely successful hit brought to the world by the legendary Mel Brooks, The Producers. Again, how was this experience for you? Was it frantic playing a dozen different characters?

Well, I have to take issue with the word “starred.” I hardly starred. I was a proud member of the ensemble (or “chorus”), those musical theatre performers who run around changing costumes and continually showing up as different people in the story. I loved playing a dozen characters a night, from a stern judge to a swishy costume designer to a bad tenor to a cruel, demeaning boss to a Bavarian peasant and on and on. We worked, singing and dancing our asses off. I also understudied the huge, exhausting, never-leave-the-stage starring role of Max Bialystock. It’s the role that Nathan Lane won a Tony for, and one I’ve since played in various productions around the country. The job was a dream come true, my first time in a big Broadway show, albeit the touring version, and I treasured the whole adventure. I related my tales of life on the road in my book, Letters from Backstage.

Looking back on your long and extremely impressive career, when the time comes to hang up your hat, what would you say you are most proud of when you do so?

Wow. Am I retiring? Actually, having any success at all started late for me, so it doesn’t feel like it’s been a long career just yet. I feel like I’m just getting going.

So… You want a really honest answer? I’m most proud that I braved what I knew was a daunting and discouraging profession, and did so because to not do so would have been to go against my own DNA, my calling. I’m proud to be an actor. We’re a noble and embattled tribe. And I’m proud of all the tables I waited, all the temp jobs, all the growing pains, all the therapy, all the battles with my own depression and low self esteem, learning to present myself at auditions without panicking, surviving bad productions and unkind directors and somehow, miraculously, getting to the point where someone would want to interview me.

What inspired you to pen your book Letters From Backstage? What was it that you truly wished to accomplish with this book?

As I mentioned earlier, scoring a job in the touring company of The Producers was a dream come true for me. What I really wanted was to take my friends along for the ride. So that was the inspiration. For each tour stop, I wrote kind of a short story about life on the road, sharing what was happening with the show, what the city we were in was like, funny travel mishaps, weird audience encounters and so forth and e-mailed them to all my friends. They started e-mailing them to their friends. Strangers wrote to me asking to be included in the mailing list. These e-mails became the book, Letters from Backstage. My favorite comment I’ve gotten from readers is that they feel like they’re right there out on the road with me, and I couldn’t ask for a better response.

What does the future hold for you? Any other projects in the works you would like to pimp out?

I’m finishing up a book I’m excited about, based on my very popular workshop, Audition Psych. 101, which is all about the mental side of auditioning (www.auditionpsych101.com). I’ve offered the workshop all over the country for almost a decade now and have found that actors derive tremendous benefit. The book will allow me to reach even more of my fellow thespians. I expect to have it published early next year.

Michael Kostroff2

Photo by Leslie Hassler http://lesliehassler.com

But next up, I’ll be doing a much-anticipated revival of Can-Can at one of my favorite theatres, The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, with a Broadway run expected to follow next year. This time, I’m a dry, gay, sarcastic French waiter at a scandalous can-can club. It makes a nice change from the pinstripe suit and the courtroom.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

The other day I was walking in my neighborhood when a woman stopped me. Her: “You’re that lawyer from The Wire!”
Me: “Yes, yes I am.”
Her: “Wow! Are you really a lawyer?”
Me: “No, no. I’m just an actor.”
Her: (Hugely disappointed) “Damn. I really need a lawyer.” (Then, begrudgingly) You were good on the show, though.

I smiled all the way home.

Cariad Harmon: Cariad Harmon [Album]

Cariad Harmon - Album ArtWith that feeling that the sun is finally breaking through the thick white clouds to brighter up our lives, we have discovered another beautiful singer/songwriter who creates beautiful little tunes that splash together Americana and Blues lyrics over a some precious acoustic strumming in precisely the perfect manner!  Yes, describing the beautiful music that Cariad Harmon has created on her self titled album is well-deserving of run on sentences, and bouts of explicit happiness.  With an album that can conjure up imagery of smoky jazz clubs or even smokier blues bars located in Anytown U.S.A., Harmon is a wonderful British artist who definitely understands Americana music, and has found just the right away to perfect it.

Whether it is beautiful little ditties about not giving up on what you truly need/want (“Old and Grey”) or one woman’s love/hate relationship with NYC (“Wicked Town”), there is something so deeply personal and touching about this collection of Cariad Harmon tracks that you just can’t help but sway your head to, even just a little bit.  Whether she is breaking it down with piano driven melodies (“Williamsburg Bridge”) or adding just the right amount of country twang to a self esteem boosting cut (“You Don’t Know Me Yet”), there is something on this beautiful album for anyone who appreciates brilliant singer/songwriter stylings.

We’ve covered a whole mess of Americana artists here at Trainwreck’d Society because, well….trains.  The image of a train rolling through a corn field in middle America somewhere as the sun is setting over the prairie is about as American as it gets, right?  But, really, this is the new age of Americana music.  The revolution that began oh so many years in places like The Village in NYC has brought these roots driven tracks all over the land, and even across the pond.  Cariad Harmon used to spend her days running around the streets of London dancing around to house music and techno, but deep down inside, there was a real artist.  And we should all be so damn grateful that she chose the path that has brought us her brilliant self-titled sophomore release.  So, it would behoove other great singer/songwriters like Laura Gibson or Theressa Anderson to join forces with this whirlwind of talent, or simply step aside as a new queen steps in to rule with her beautiful album in tow, which is one of the finest pieces of work of 2014.  And it would behoove you to jump on the bandwagon right about now.  Because like said train in a cornfield, Cariad Harmon is going places.  Going places fast!

Cariad Harmon’s self titled album will be available November 11th, 2014.  Stayed tune for updates at her website and be sure to Friend her on Facebook.  You can also preview and download “You Don’t Know Me Yet” at Large Hearted Boy.

Killer Instinct by Jane Hamsher [Book]

Killer Instinct by Jane HamsherFresh out of film school, aspiring producer Jane Hamsher and her partner Don Murphy stumbled onto a screenplay by a geeky filmmaker-wannabe named Quentin Tarantino. For $10,000, Jane and Don optioned Natural Born Killers and set off on a two-year roller coaster ride no classroom could have prepared them for. With an outrageous cast of real-life characters including Oliver Stone, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey, Jr., and Juliette Lewis–along with a slew of film-crew leeches and behind-the-scenes studio pitbulls–Killer Instinct rivals the most mesmerizing, gut-wrenching movie scenes. A wild joyride like no other, Hamsher’s tale provides a fresh, insider’s perspective on stardom and the real balance of power in Hollywood.

- GOODREADS.COM

 

 

I had been wanting to check out this book for such a very long time, but somehow it just kept slipping on down my reading list over the last 15 years or so.  I was just a young 12-year-old, movie obsessive kid when it was released, but I remember it quite clearly.  What I mainly remembered was learning about an incident involving my then favorite filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, and some producer I had never heard of named Don Murphy (seriously, what 12-13 kid really gives a shit about the “producer”?) in which QT apparently clocked Mr. Murphy in the jaw because of things that were said in this little book, Killer Instinct.  Well, I will be damned if I wasn’t at least a bit intrigued.  What could have led one of my heroes to fly off the handle like that?  But, as I previously stated, the hype of it all died down (for me, anyway) and I just went back to loving the work of a man who I just knew was going to continue to thrive and make wonderful films.  Jackie Brown came out that year, and I was in love, and completely forgot about these Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy people.

As any young kid with wild aspirations to be a “screenwriter”, whatever that really meant to me, I loved Quentin Tarantino.  And it was easy to side with him on any matter that might put him in a negative light.  For this reason, I believe I decided not to read this book because I was fearful that I might see my hero in a light I just didn’t want to see.  Who wants to hear terrible things about somebody you admire so much?  So, I just let it go and continued to enjoy the world of QT.  Although there was a 7 year dry spell in there where I was desperately wanting a feature film to come around, but I knew he would be back.  And boy did he ever.

Before I get to far into the defensive or offensive of QT, I’d like to throw some thoughts out there about the author, Jane Hamsher, herself.  Jane, teamed up with Don Murphy, were a duo of producers who dove right into the 90’s world of cinema and created quite a splash when they took a script originally penned by Quentin Tarantino entitled Natural Born Killers, and managed to engulf themselves into the world of the legendary filmmaker Oliver Stone with this film by creating one of the most controversial films of the decade.  For all that it is worth, Natural Born Killers is a great film, albeit landing somewhere near the bottom of my “favorite things QT”, but that shouldn’t sway from the film’s brilliance, as the story was almost entirely reconstructed and removed so much of the original writer’s vision, that his name being attached to the film is simply a contractual obligation it seems.  Jane would go on to produce, alongside Don Murphy, a few other fabulous films that creating the beginnings of a wonderful career.  She managed to produce films like Apt. Pupil, Permanent Midnight, and From Hell.  But, Jane, for reasons I don’t really know (or honestly care to really research anymore than I already did) sort of fell out of the producing scene after splitting with her partner Don Murphy (who would go on to bring the world Transformers, which is a phenomenon to say the least, albeit one I couldn’t give a shit about) and has transformed into a professional blogger of sorts.  Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, and on her very own blog.  Mostly political stuff, I guess.  S0 there is that.

natural-born-killers-movie-poster-1994-1020260244So that sums up Jane Hamsher and her career to date, in my eyes anyway.  Her career is not something to laugh at entirely, but in all honesty much like the content of Killer Instinct and my poor grammar, quite disdainful.  When you really stop and take a full on look at it: what has she accomplished?  The main focal point of this book, Natural Born Killers, is a wonderful and blood spattered film that only received attention by riding toe curtain tails of the newly sought after screenwriter and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino that would have never even came to life had the legendary Oliver Stone not managed to find interest in it as a project and half-heartedly let a couple of nobodies with serious attitude problems tag along with him.  This was a project Tarantino never wanted to see come to life, but was forced to settle with a check for $350,000 and knowing that his world will be forever intertwined with the likes of the legendary Oliver Stone.  And I am not saying that Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy didn’t suffer their own stresses and challenges on their part to get this film started.  But, what became of the final product, and the short career of Hamsher and continual career of Murphy, are obviously owed to the brilliance of both Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone.  This is a fact that can be argued very easily.  Sure, they put in the work, but would these two even have jobs today if it weren’t for a good bit of luck?  If both Jane and Don where ever willing to clearly state that they essentially owe EVERYTHING they have now to these two men, I think this would do them a bit of good.

So in Killer Instinct, does Jane Hamsher recognize the fact that the only reason she made it into the business was because of the genius of one man who penned a script she managed to acquire early enough?  Or that if one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation and the previous one hadn’t become interested in the script, she would be counting greasy dollar bills at a bank in Santa Monica somewhere?  Does she have appear to have a humble bone in her entire body?  In my opinion (which of course, is not fact) the answer to all of these questions is a sad “no”.  Instead, she manages to do something that truly embodies the US Weekly quality of journalism that Killer Instinct provides.  She bashes.  She exploits.  She demonizes every single move that anyone made around her, except for her own.  Hamsher manages to profile herself as the only person she knows with a fully functional brain.  The disgrace is even aimed (a lot!) at her business partner and “friend” Don Murphy who she seems to portray an as an arrogant, junk food swilling, mindless fuck who can’t even dress himself, and one who would be nothing without her.

When I completed Killer Instinct, the complexities of emotions I felt were fierce.  Here I had been waiting all of these years to check out this book out of fear that I might hate to see my hero being demonized.  But what I came to hate about the book was so much more than some petty QT bashing.  In fact, after the first 100 pages or so, I was already discrediting every ill word stated towards the man.  It didn’t take long to notice the self-righteousness that was spilling out of each page.  It is as though Hamsher never once took the time to think that maybe when others look out for their best interests, it’s not a full on attack against you?  No, instead it was the entire world (well, at least a few naysayers in the L.A. metro area) fierce fully attacking this poor little film school grad who just wanted to get her name out there.

But in all fairness, although I believe this book reads like a very long article for the National Enquirer, it is actually very well written, and does contain some cool little snippets of knowledge of what it means to make a movie.  If you are able to look past the idea that this was a book that was basically written by a recent film school graduate who thought her “experience” and “knowledge” out-weighed that of many folks who have extremely successful careers, you might find a few interesting things to learn.  Hamsher is articulate, even funny at times.  And whilst reading a bit of her work these days, it is obvious that she has grown quite a bit.  I Jane Hamsherknow I have spent a good deal of time bashing her for what she wrote, but I do believe she has a good heart, and it seems as though her departure from the producing world was probably best for everyone.  And who knows, maybe every word she printed is right, and the odds were stacked against her so damn hard that she felt compelled to put it all on paper.  I highly doubt it.  I couldn’t verify a damn thing, but it just seems far too unrealistic to be all truth.

In the end, Natural Born Killers became a successful film, and Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy certainly deserve to be acknowledged for the work they put in, almost as much as Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone deserve credit for giving them the best bit of luck they could have ever hoped for.  While I generally disliked this book, it’s not hard to see that it is simply a period piece where some totally fucked up events happened, and made for a quite a story.  All self-righteousness aside, it is certainly a good little story.

 

Rolfe Kanefsky [Interview]

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There are certain people who were simply born to enter the world of movies.  For one reason or another there is a burning sensation in the pit of these folk’s stomachs that tell them they HAVE to be in the business of making movies.  Even as cold and shameless as the world may be, it is just something they obviously have to do.  And even better, there are some folks who simply will not be pigeonholed into making just certain types of movies.  In fact it becomes the versatility in their work that becomes an obvious factor that has been brought by their drive to great cinema.

Take for instance the wonderful filmmaker/screenwriter Rolfe Kanefsky.  If you scour the internet for a while, you will most likely find that the horror community has embraced this man as a legend among indie horror filmmakers for his now cult classic first feature, There’s Nothing Out There.  A horror movie that preceded what would become some more well known films like Scream or Cabin in the Woods.  Kanefsky is the man who laid the ground work for the certain sub-genre of an already beloved genre of movies.  The film is great in its own right, and it is no surprise that the horror community (arguably, one of the most loyal communities the internet has ever seen), but there is so much more to this man.  His abilities to transcend through any genre (erotica, western, comedy, alien mommy issues, and on and on) is what makes him a true master of cinema.  Rolfe knew that the best way to break into the business was by using the horror genre to kickstart his career.  And it worked!  Though There’s Nothing Out There might not have been an initial “success” (depending on how you would deem success), time has proven that is the stuff that legends are made of, and also a door to a truly astounding career that has shown no evidence of slowing up anytime soon.

So, with that in mind, we are proud to bring Mr. Kanefsky into the digital pages of Trainwreck’d Society!  We managed to peel him away from his work for a few questions about his career thus far, his amazing versatility, and maybe give some insight into some of this other great works.  So, ladies and gentlemen, Rolfe Kanefsky!

 

In the early stages of your career, you were working for the legendary Troma Films. How did you land this gig? What were you up to around there, and what films did you happen to work on during this time?

I started working as a P.A. when I was 16 over the summers on a bunch of independent films including a slasher film called Posed For Murder and a still unreleased comedy called Rich Boys. I got involved with Troma the summer before I started college. I believe my father, Victor Kanefsky, a film editor is the one who hooked me up over there. He edited a movie that eventually became one of their most infamous releases, Joel M. Reed’s Bloodsucking Freaks. My father owned and ran a post production company in New York called Valkhn Films and got the assignment to edit some Troma titles. I helped cut one for Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD. But before that I was a P.A. on their biggest production ever, Troma’s War. I worked for them for about two months on that show. I had to leave to start college but that was quite an experience. I actually was interviewed about it on their special anniversary DVD of Troma’s War. There’s a seven minute interview I did about my memories from that set. I’ve stayed in contact with Troma and Lloyd over the years and have put Lloyd in bit parts on some of the later films I directed like Tomorrow By Midnight and Pretty Cool although you now only hear his voice in the films. Troma also ended up releasing our 20th Anniversary DVD for my very first professional feature film, There’s Nothing Out There.

A5701As time marches on, it seems that your now cult classic film There’s Nothing Out There is finally receiving some of the much deserved respect and admiration it has always deserved, even outside of the realm of die hard horror fans. Why do you think this is? What do you believe it is that people see in this film that is so captivating?

I could write a book about There’s Nothing Out There and in fact, have. It’s on my website.  But the shorter story is, at the age of 14, I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker and started to research how to do it. I realized that at that time most first time filmmaker started with horror films so I started renting every horror film on video. I saw some great ones like Evil Dead and Carpenter’s Halloween and a lot of bad ones that were just doing the same old clichés to make a quick buck. I wrote Nothing Out There when I was still in high school as an exercise to see how long it would take me to write a low budget exploitation horror flick. As I wrote it, I couldn’t get myself to write all the same clichés seriously so I added the character of Mike, (basically myself), a horror fan who has seen all the horror films and immediately started to recognize and warn the others of the conventions of the genre. But I was careful not to make fun of the horror genre but of the lazy filmmakers and producers who keep doing the cat scare, the person going into the basement alone, standing in front of an open window, etc… My thought was to send-up all these cliches so horror films would be forced to be smarter for the fans. When we shot the film in 1989, the horror genre was still huge. Unfortunately, it collapsed the following year. My film got a small theatrical release in New York and California, played a bunch of film festivals, got surprisingly good reviews and then hit video through Prism entertainment, laser disc through Image, and played HBO/Cinemax. I thought it was over. A few years later, Wes Craven made a movie called Scream and to my surprise, thanks to a few movie books and the internet, people started talking about Nothing again. It slowly became a cult film. So, I embraced it, started a website for the movie, and let the slow legion of growing fans keep it alive. When DVD came along, IMAGE was willing to do a special 10 year anniversary on DVD and we were finally able to get a good quality version of the film put out. Reviews were great for the DVD. Because of Scream, Nothing Out There was discovered more and more. And for the 20th Anniversary, Troma stepped up to release a 2 disc special edition. There is talk that one day they may put it out on Blu-Ray too.

I think the reason why Nothing Out There has stayed so popular is that it is very honest in its’ intentions and is still funny. The genre hasn’t changed that much. Filmmakers and producers are still doing the same cliches so There’s Nothing Out There is still current. Even after Cabin in the Woods, people came back to write about There’s Nothing Out There. One reviewer said it’s the perfect bookends to the self-reflexive horror genre that started with Nothing moved to Scream and ended with Cabin in the Woods. To be grouped in that company is an honor.

DOC HOLLIDAY new final art-2While you are no stranger to the world of horror, your body of work consists of many different genres, from comedy to erotica, actually pretty scattered to say the least. One film in particular that interests me a whole lot is the film Doc Holliday’s Revenge, which is actually a western you wrote, and was directed by David DeCoteau. So, how did you manage to enter the world of Doc Holliday? What made you want to get involved with this project?

It was simple. David DeCoteau asked me to write a western that he could shoot in three days with about seven characters. I came up with a couple of simple premises, one kind of variation of Straw Dogs that he liked. But then he wanted to add a history western figure into the story. I talked with a good writer friend of mine, C. Courtney Joyner, who is a huge western fan and has written a wonderful book called Shotgun, to help me. Courtney suggested Doc Holliday. So, I started researching Doc Holliday and looked for an event that could fit into my original story idea. I ended up writing a fictional story that consists of all real people from the time around real events that were taking place. During this time, the news with filled with the whole Trevon Martin/Scott Zimmerman trial where they were calling Florida the wild wild west because of the “Stand Your Ground” law. I thought that would be a great title for my western and actually wrote the story very much as an allegory to the Zimmerman trial from the point of view of the judge, who was eventually played by Tom Berenger in my story. David loved it and shot the movie, getting a little more time and money then usual because of the quality of the script. The distributors changed the title from Stand Your Ground to “Doc Holliday’s Revenge and Lions Gate released it. I hear the film has done well and I’m proud of the script I wrote for it.

And even a bit more of a jump is your comedy Blonde and Blonder. That was even more of a stretch compared to your normal body of work? How did you land this gig?

Actually, Blonde and Blonder was not a stretch at all. I fell in love with Abbott and Costello movies when I was four years old. Comedy is actually my forte. No matter what genre I write, there is always a pretty good sense of humor in it. I was working for Alain Siritzky, producer of the famous Emmanuelle series in the 90’s. He has the idea of doing a female version of Dumb and Dumber and asked me to write it.  So, I wrote Blonde and Blonder as almost a female version of Abbott and Costello, although I described more along the lines of a younger, sexier I Love Lucy episode. When I wrote the script, I thought perhaps Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy would be good for the roles. Alain tried to get the script made but couldn’t.

Layout 1:IJ[OneSheet-Keyart]MechIt sat on a shelf unproduced for about 10 years until another producer came to me. He’s a Brazilian producer named “Frederico Lapenda”. He invested some money into my flick, Nightmare Man, and asked what other scripts I had. I gave him Blonde and Blonder. He asked who I saw in the roles? I told him originally, Pamela Anderson. So Frederico got the script the Pamela’s brother, Gerry. He got it to her. She liked it and they set the film up in Canada with Insight Film Studios. Bob Clark was hired to direct and suddenly the film was in production with Pamela Anderson and Denise Richards. I am not very happy with the final results and the worst part was that Bob Clark, director of such films as A Christmas Story, Porky’s, Black Christmas) died in a car accident right after production wrapped and didn’t get any credit on the finished film due to Canadian Content (aka stealing money from the government as a tax rebate if there are enough Canadians working on the film.) I won’t go into all the details and dirty dealings that occurred but it’s a shame that Bob Clark does not have credit for the last film he directed after such an incredible career.

What is your ultimate goal for yourself as a filmmaker/screenwriter? When you look back on your career at a much older age, what are you hoping to see?

Well, it’s a crazy business. To be able to have had a career full time as the writer/director for almost 25 years is amazing in itself. A filmmaker always hope that he leaves behind a film or a body of work that is remembered and appreciated. I am pleased that I have a cult film still talked about after twenty years. I am proud of a film that has never been released in the states called Tomorrow By Midnight which is the most personal film I’ve made. I hope to see that released one day. You’ve probably heard the saying that any film that gets completed should win an award and if it turns out to be good, it’s a miracle. I am pleased to say that I believe a handful of my films have turned out good. I hope to have a handful more before I’m done. I have a lot of scripts ready to go if I could just find the finances. I love film and all genres. I feel fortunate to have been able to work in most genres and not be pigeonholed. I hope to make more thrillers since I’m a big Hitchcock fan. At this point, I have 50 produced scripts that I written of which 23 of them I personally directed. I consider that a career, more better or worse. I hope others consider it to be better.

What would you say has been your greatest experience in the film business thus far?

The response that There’s Nothing Out There received at film festivals around the world. Hearing the crowd react in Florence, Ohio, New York, and California was amazing. That’s a memory you can never lose. I also loved directing Tomorrow By Midnight which is a film that is the closest I’ve gotten to getting my full vision on screen.

Rolfe&cameraNM-2And, of course, what has been your least favorite experience in your career to date?

Working on Corpses for Tanya York’s company. Miserable experience every single day only made slightly better by a good cast consisting of Tiffany Shepis, Jeff Fahey, and Robert Donavan. And meeting my script supervisor turned friend turned producer, Esther Goodstein.

Most important question of all…..you are on set for say 14-16 straight hours.  When you find a chance to sit and eat something, what is your personal “brain food” you use to fuel creativity?
I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. My one vice is chocolate. I wouldn’t call it “brain food” but I do find myself eating the junk food. Chocolate chip cookies make me happy.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Doing this interview. A lot of good memories mixed with the bad but I try to be a positive person. Glass is half full.

Joe Chrest [Interview]

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One of my favorite things about running this site is gaining the ability to at least digitally talk with some folks who have been involved in some major projects that have either influenced or entertained me over the years.  Whether it is with laughs, inspiration, or just pure and non-granulated talent, each individual that has been interviewed on this site has been someone who is very special to me for one reason or another.

And our interviewee today is no exception.  Well, maybe a slight exception, as Joe Chrest has turned out to be one of the funniest and most down to earth people I have had the honor and privilege to have a digital conversation with since, well the last person who was extremely cordial via e-mail (honestly, they’ve all be pretty cool, but Joe has been THE man!).  We also happen to share two very important commonalities.  We’ve both flown desks for the Air Force, and we absolutely LOVE the feel of brand new pair of socks.  How can you not dig a guy like that.  I guess more importantly might be that he is a very talented actor who you should recognize as Schmidt’s dad in both 21 Jump Street & 22 Jump Street.  Along with various other roles in films like Oldboy, One the Road, Lee Daniel’s The Butler, The Blind Side, Jeff Who Lives at Home, and many more.  More notably so, you may recognize him for his reoccurring role on HBO’s hit drama True Detective, that is certainly one of the finest shows on television today.  You can also see him in the upcoming and final(?) installment of The Hunger Games films in 2015.

No matter how you know him, he is a hilarious and talented son of a gun, and we are so honored to welcome him to the Trainwreck’d Society family.  With that being said, ladies and gentlemen…..Joe Chrest!

When did you first decide you wanted to become and actor? 

First got interested in acting during my senior year of high school. I was always heavy into sports (and still am) so I always needed the adrenaline rush and with my skill set, it was becoming obvious I was not going to take it to the next level in sports. I auditioned for a play and it really got the heart pounding — I was hooked, but it wasn’t until I got out of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and started sitting at a desk every morning, in a uniform that I realized I wasn’t going to be happy unless I went all in with the acting thing and see where it took me. Bummer was that I still owed Uncle Sam 4 more years. I was able to finish out my service and finish undergrad at the same time, so all was not lost, and my theatre degree was fully funded by the U.S. Government!

What were some of your earliest influences?

My early influences were all about comedy. I loved Monty Python and British humor since I was around twelve years old and I couldn’t get enough of the Cheech and Chong LP’s — my buddies and I would recite them in the locker room even though I didn’t understand half the shit — they still made me laugh (at twelve I couldn’t understand why the effeminate pirate would say “yes!” when they beat him with cat o nine tails on the yardarm, but it still broke me up). Of all the famous people I ever worked with, meeting Cheech on Nash Bridges was a true highlight. He still liked to talk about the old stuff and signed my buddy’s Los Cochinos album, “snack bar’s closed, fool…” referencing the prime parking spot from Pedro and The Man at the Drive-in.

What was your first paying gig as an actor?

My first paying gig was the same as Andy Griffith — The Lost Colony summer theatre in North Carolina. He found a wife there as well, but I quit after the first week and left wife-less (and soundly convinced by the producer that I would be black-balled forever in the industry if he didn’t see me at rehearsal that evening). Maybe that’s why I never got a Matlock gig?? I had never quit anything before, nor have I since, but suffice to say without going into detail that I felt justified enough with the circumstances to walk — even with Mr. Knowles’ black ball (balls??) hanging over my head.

Can you tell us a bit about Swine Palace?  How did this come to life?

After graduating Marshall University in my home state of West Virginia, I needed a good reason to procrastinate the big move to New York, and LSU came through with an offer of an assistantship and a full ride, so I figured what the hell and headed down to this mysterious land called Louisiana. Great move. There I met the three artists who have been the most influential on my life…John Dennis (my mentor), Steven Soderbergh (who gave me my breakout film role as Ben in King of the Hill in 1993), and Barry Kyle (Royal Shakespeare Company Director Emeritus) who after guest directing at LSU decided Louisiana was the perfect place for his new American acting company. He asked me to come down and found the company with him. It was to be called Swine Palace. Despite the odd name, I didn’t hesitate. Barry Kyle was a brilliant director, a visionary, and this was an artist’s dream…an artistic home. We had no theatre space, just a vision and a dream to turn the abandoned pig viewing pavilion (thus the name Swine Palace) on the LSU campus into the most state of the art, innovative performance space in the world. Eight years later, the doors were opened on our new multimillion dollar facility, The Reilly Theater, the dream having become a reality. The irony is that not long after the ribbon cutting, Barry Kyle was run out of town on a rail. Amazing. The man had directed a who’s who list of British super stars and it would be very difficult to argue that he was not a genius, but he could be… shall we say, “difficult.” Tough loss for Baton Rouge. The coda here is that the theatre is finally back in good hands with a great guy, Kennedy Center Fellow, George Judy.

True Detective Group

On the set of HBO’s True Detective.

In the span of your career, you seem to have portrayed several cops, or at least some form of law enforcement. Why do you think you tend to land so many of these gigs, including your reoccurring role on the hit HBO series True Detective?

Possibly the only thing longer than the arm of “Johnny Law” is my list of law enforcement roles. It’s kind of funny, but I spent the first half of my career on the other side of the law, playing just about every type of criminal found on line at Hedley Lamar’s card table in Blazing Saddles, and now all I’m pulling in are the cops, FBI, ATF, SWAT…you name it. To be honest, I really believe the reason is because when I would go to an audition in Los Angeles, I was always one of the weirdest looking guys in the room, but when I go to an audition in New Orleans, I’m always one of the most normal looking people in the room. I long for those days on the wrong side of the law — in film it’s far more interesting. Problem is, every time I get a good beard going, or a makings of a decent mullet, I get cast as a cop or lawyer or military officer and I have to break out the razor.

I noticed that you will be appearing in the next in line of the Hunger Games films.  I also noticed that you have some kids.  Are they fans of the movies, and stoked about seeing their dad in one of these films?  How about yourself?  Are you a fan as well?

5. I was a huge fan of The Hunger Games so I was stoked to find myself right there in the world with Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick going to take down Panem. The great part was that I was sucked into the world by the first two movies and the cliff hanger at the end of Catching Fire sent me running out to get my hands on Mockingjay, which I read in a day. What made it surreal was that I was so angered by President Snow at the end of Mockingjay, and then I get a call to audition to be in the “Star Squad” “Squad 451” who goes in to kick that son of a bitch’s ass! It was like being an arm chair quarterback and then waking up to find myself in the real Super Bowl. My kid’s are still a little young for The Hunger Games, but by the time MJ2 comes out, it’ll be a cool thing at school. It’s already on my 10 year old’s friends’ radar for sure. Spending the hot summer months shooting in Paris and Berlin made the whole thing about the coolest thing I’ve done in my 20 years in the business.

You have appeared as Jonah Hills father in both 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street, and were involved with some of the most hilarious scenes of both films.  How is the set life like films like these?  Is it as fun and full of laughs as it appears to be on the screen?

Everything about 21 Jump Street, AND 22JS has been a blast. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are laid back, fun to be around, and FUNNY dudes. Their attitude trickles down on the entire company as it always does with the best directors. Soderbergh’s sets are fun sets, and Francis Lawrence creates the same happy space. What makes their stuff great is that they trust their actors, and welcome anything you bring to the table. On the Jump Street sets improv was the order of the day and the only sad part about it is that so much funny stuff has to get left out. A great comedy director has to have the discipline to cut out the stuff that is hilarious, but not really needed to advance the movie. On something like that, the only hope is that the audience has as much fun watching it as you had making it.

What is your preferred genre of film to work in?

Comedy is the best. I love it all, dumb stuff like Stripes, and The Animal to high brow Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward plays to the corny stuff like Andy Griffith and Don Knotts movies. In junior high and high school, before ever wanting to act I was always voted class clown and stuff like that. I’ve always enjoyed laughing and I love making people laugh. One of the most important lessons I hope to teach my kids is to learn to laugh at themselves. Humility is a virtue. We need to lighten up as a society — laugh when it hurts! Cliches are cliches for a reason.

Dead Man Walking

On the set of Dead Man Walking, for being re-casted by Clancy Brown due to scheduling conflicts

What is the most embarrassing moment you have had on set, whether in the theatre or on a shoot?

Most embarrassing moment on set? Wow, there have been so many. We always laugh at the stuff Barry Kyle used to yell at me, like the time he stopped rehearsal when I grabbed an actress by the arm (not too roughly or anything) but we both kind of stumbled making it look worse…he yelled in front of the entire company, “Joe you and your bullshit method acting have been holding the American theatre back for years!!” I was young and green and this coming from someone I held in such high esteem was humiliating and devastating. Now it is one of my favorite laughs…man, to shoulder the blame for the entire American Theatre’s backward ways??

What was the last thing that made you smile?

9. Ha ha. I’m smiling now thinking about all those embarrassing Barry Kyle outbursts, “Joe! Cut the bit with the jacket!! It’s a TERRIBLE BORE!!!” I can hear it like it was yesterday.

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