Monday, July 14, 2008


I sat down with award-winning comic book writer Brain Azzarello of 100 Bullets fame. We ate our Thai noodles and talked comics, art, and bullets for Hollywood.

Richard O'Donnell

"It's become really clear to me that I don't like super heroes because they're dull. So I don't mind screwing with them."

R: 1999 was the year DC took a gamble on an unknown writer?

A: Yeah

R: Your own series rocked the comic world - is the thrill gone?

A: No, not at all. Neither is the pressure to perform. You know? I'm still very aware the rug could be pulled out from under me at anytime. But with the way sales are going with the book it seems unlikely. It could still happen, you know? I'm as good as my last issue.

R: Still like to run out though? See it, get it when it's printed, hits the stands?

A: That thrill is gone. When I do the finale run-through of the script, when everything's all pasted-up, that's pretty much when the book's done for me. I'll get it, I'll get it, I'll page through it to see the colors because I never get a chance to see that until it's printed.

R: Do you pen it like a regular script?

A: Yeah.

R: Television, film?

A: Yeah, right. But since it's comics, it has to be done panel to panel. There's art direction for every panel. But my art direction is very, very sparse. I really trust my artist.

R: So in the same way a writer might pack lots of camera direction into a screenplay…?

A: That's right. I don't do that. I trust Eduardo.

R: Eduardo Risso?

A: The artist, that's right. Eduardo's like a cinematographer, he paints with light. He's got so much freedom for his vision-I think that's the way it should be. I don't wanna treat an artist like he's a "hand". He showed as much input as I do. It just makes it more interesting for him too.

R: Now, you're in totally different locations?

A: Yeah, he's in Argentina.

R: So you communicate…how?

A: E-mail.

R: And you've met, how many times?

A: Twice.

R: Yet it's like you're connected?

A: That's what people say. Other creator's in this industry can not believe the synergy that we have. It looks like the work of one person.

R: He gets inside your head?

A: Yeah.

R: I think that's part of the success.

A: It's funny, but I'm trying to get to the point with him…

(We're interrupted for some Thai food.)

…thanks...we're…I'm going to know what it looks like. He still surprises me…a lot! It's funny, he sez I surprise him. You know? The way these stories are going? Something's coming out of left field…he's as intimate with this thing as I am…and I'll be like Oh-mi-god, I can't believe he did that…(he) fooled me. We had a long talk in San Diego about where this thing was going next: twenty to thirty issues, he just wanted to know. It's time for you to tell me. (laughs) You're the only one that knows, so he sat me down-he's happy with it.

R: So DC leaves you alone?

A: They kinda want to know six months in advance what's happening. Again-they're trusting Eduardo and I, at this point.

R: Hellblazer? How did that come about?

A: (laughs) Warren Ellis quit the book. They needed a replacement real fast and I got the call. Axel was the editor at the time, and said this is the direction I want to take him in. I said, all right, let me think about that. He wanted to do a lot of globe hopping, and I thought about that and I said that's not something that interests me. I said, let's drop him somewhere he can't get out of: prison. And as soon as I said that he said, you got the job. Let's keep him in America, a sorta Herschell Gordon Lewis movie (laughs). But I'm done with Hellblazer now.

R: the buzz on that was, the series Oz was tapping into your head, and visa versa, as far as prison reality goes?

A: Well, it's funny, the first reaction was like, I was riffin on Oz: the Black gang the Arian gang-hey, that's not riffin' on Oz…

Both: (laughing) That's prison.

We both take a break and eat our spicy Thai. Azzarello honestly looks like Spider Jerusalem from the DC comic masterpiece Transmetropolitan, so it's hard not to think I'm sitting on the pages of some comic book, paneled, inked, and colored.

R: Marvel and Richard Corben…fun diversion?

A: Yeah. It's been, you know, a real good time. I love working with Richard and we will work together again.

R: But strictly DC?

A: Yeah, but we'll create our own thing, which is pretty much where I'm going. I mean, we did the Hulk thing, The Cage…

R: Which was great.

A: thanks. And it's become really clear to me that I don't like super heroes because they're dull. So I don't mind screwing with them. I mean, a lot of the Marvel characters are flawed, but their flaws are so insignificant that they're still dull. Working on the company owned stuff, you don't have a lot of freedom. You can tell a story, sure. But you can't do anything radical to the character, you gotta leave him were he was, you gotta just pick him up, dust him off a bit…the Hulk was different, we were aloud to do pretty much what we wanted because we were out of the whole Hulk continuity. That led to Cage, which we just finished.

R: When do we get to see the trades?

A: I think November.

R: 100 Bullets is often compared to Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep? Cool? Pain-in-the-ass? What?

A: I don't really pay attention. People are always trying to find ways to categorize things. It's a way to describe what I do…well, it's like this…it's like The Big Sleep, whatever.

R: The Minute Men, are we going deeper into their past, a biography?

A: You'll know what happened in Atlantic City.

R: What's up with Atlantic City?

A: I have a soft spot in my heart for Atlantic City. I love that place. The desperation is so palatable (laugh). They haven't shined the place up, like Vegas, which is terrible, it's Disney World.

R: The characters Shepard and Graves…they know so much because they have friends in high places?

A: Yeah.

R: how high does it go?

A: Pretty high (laughs).

Outside an ambulance rips by, there's honking and some cursing too. Everything's crazy, out of balance for a few and then instantly settles down to doldrums. Nobody notices the commotion outside, nobody looks up, pulls away from their conversations.

R: Instead of all over the map, you like intimate settings for your characters?

A: A location is only as interesting as the characters that are in it. Their story is more important then where they're at. Although where they're at shapes who they are sometimes.

R: Would you say you're work is more character driven?

A: Well, yeah, people's stories are great. I love to listen to people talk.

R: Do you get your ideas from real people?

A: Oh yeah. I'll ride the bus, eavesdrop on the conversation. Kids have the best ones. A lot of people say my dialogue is dead on, that's because I listen. That's all.

R: What do you read?

A: I don't read a lot of comics. I just read a true story, corporate man, middle aged, commits murder, goes to prison. It's his memoirs on what's that like.

R: You like prison stories?

A: I like the politics (laughs). You go to prison and you're stripped of all you are, and then you struggle to regain yourself in usually severe and brutal ways.

R: What's the future hold…Hollywood?

A: I kinda don't want anything to do with that. It seems there's a lot of lying and ass-kissing going on (laughs). And I don't have time for that, you know? So I'm moving more towards novels. Rather than Hollywood. But a friend of mine, who is in comics, said that's a mistake. You write a script, it pays better per word. (laughs)

R: Graves would have a real field day in Hollywood?

A: they haven't made enough bullets for Hollywood. (Laughs)

With that he pushes his seat back and stands. He smiles as he puts his cap on, zips his jacket, shakes my hand before heading through the tiny wood-paneled restaurant. He pushes the glass door open. The sunlight swallows him whole and in an instant he is gone.



Improvisational comedians have called Del Close the guru, the creative spark that helped launch the careers of Bill Murray, John Candy, and John Belushi, to name only a few. When he wasn’t institutionalized by his Second City colleagues, Del spent his quiet time musing in the potsmoke of his legendary Chicago apartment. Find out the real story from someone who was right alongside him.


Once, Chicago was good for comedy. Once, they were sloppy drunk in love. A funky flaming affair where comedy was ravished and left wanting, recklessly thrust into the faces of any audience willing to sit in a makeshift theater stuck inside a seedy bar. Crosscurrents was the rendezvous. A gloomy cabaret on the corner of Belmont and Wilton that at one time or another housed steamy liaisons between The Annoyance Theater, New Age Vaudeville, The Improv Olympic, and Del Close.

Owned and operated by Thomas L. Goodman, Crosscurrents was where comedy screwed its brains out. Remember "The Friday Night Show," Aaron Freeman's "Council Wars," "The Legend of Lily Overstreet," Paul Krassner, "On the Edge," and the all-girl sketch group Somebody's Daughters? This was an orgy of political satire, improvisation, variety, vaudeville, and theater screwing endlessly under stage lights. It was stripping in the theater, walking naked through the bar, lap-dances in the cabaret, and hand jobs in the hall. Every nook and cranny, anywhere they could, in this old Swedish meeting hall—Chicago and comedy couldn’t get enough. This was where the perverts and junkies, the wannabes and the pros hung out. A comedy bordello, a red-light district where humor was pimping itself, was charging cheap admission to all peeping Toms.

Here the talent was adolescent, seriously pissed-off, and brilliant, etching quotable graffiti on the walls. Here they drank, smoked, took mind-altering anything-they-could-get-their-hands-on, and danced wildly from room to room. Out of this lustful tarantella, more Comedy was born. There were the screaming infants “Splatter Theater,” “Honor Finnegan vs. the Brain of the Galaxy,” and the “TV Dinner Hour.” This was 1987.

But nothing lasts forever. Sticky, faded love letters penned by journalists Rick Kogan, Jack Helbig, and Lawrence Bommer were placed in shoeboxes, forgotten. Chicago and comedy didn't give a shit about each other anymore, abandoning their bastard children. They survived, of course. The kiddies all did good; they looked and acted like their parents. They gave us “The Brady Bunch Live,” “Twisted,” “Coed Prison Sluts,” “Upright Citizen's Brigade,” and the “R. Rated” TV show.

But who threw the party when the surly couple met? Who decided to ignite their robust passion, put acid in their drinks, and invite everyone to toast? Del Close did. Scruffy bastard. (I can see him laugh, and half say outta the corner of his mouth, “Y’goddam right I did.”) Yeah, this dark and aging cherub, the stand-up comic that conspired with the likes of Severn Darden and later Charna Halpern, he’s the asshole that decided Chicago and comedy would be good for one another. And then? He even took care of all their deserted offspring… Scruffy, funny bastard.

Del Close: greasy hair, twisted metal-rimmed glasses, and a pilot’s coat, brown, fading piece o’ shit. (He'd kicked the chemicals, since John Belushi died.) Yeah, Del Close had chiseled off 20, 30 years by living hard and liking it. His fingers were rusty from tobacco, his teeth severely stained, and his posture crooked like a villain.

You would swear he was a movie star.

“That’s alright,” Del would say, “Charna’s on it.” Anything about his partner, and he was instantly defensive. “We’re friends,” he would say. They watched each other’s back. They understood each other. Don’t you get between them. I’m serious now. I’m serious.

When Crosscurrents crashed and burned, the heated passion over, and with Goodman holding all the bills, the aftermath just gasped and fizzled. Little sparks here and there made small media appearances, but these were lean and mean, and shitty all around.

Finally the Fall, the changing of the guard, and there was a cooling down, chilly weather, Chicago-easy-does-it… which was fine. Del was abusing comics with his latest "Wasteland" for DC, landing movie roles as the Reverend Meeker in the remake of "The Blob" with Kevin Dillon, and as the Alderman in Brian De Palma’s "The Fugitive" with Kevin Costner… so he was doing fine.

“All I wanted was to work in film,” said Del. “I’ve done alright. I’ve done a couple of features this year.”

Yeah, he was all humble, sitting in his kitchen that looked almost boarded up. After showing off his “Blob” in a jar above the fridge, Del and I read comic books. They were his second private stash. He had them everywhere, several drugstore display racks stuffed in all the blind spots and dark shadows. It was nice not to deal with furniture. One overgrown kid’s filthy bedroom. No parents, and lots and lots of toys.

“I got a haircut,” Del said.

“Looks good,” I say, not noticing a difference.

“It’s easier to manage.”

“You had it long?”

“I went through that… mad professor, hippie type.”

“Didn’t stick?”

“Better short.”

“Yeah, better.”

This wasn’t brilliant banter. This wasn’t wisdom from the master or worldly insights. This was boring, no-nothing conversation from a couple of shmoes just hanging out. That’s all. But locked inside this gibberish was the man in all his unsophisticated splendor, this was simply Del.

I visited the instigator, not once, but throughout an entire summer I took the gamble, and walked up to the guru’s lair—uninvited—knocking on his door. The funny bastard answered. Go figure. And we’d get high and talk.

His cannabis was nurtured, sweet-talked, maybe even massaged when no one watched, because it loved to turn you on. Del would ever-so-coolly pull this trapdoor down from up inside his closet. His bedroom looked all prisoner-of-war, gray the central color, and in this hideout, he produced the biggest stash of pot. Oh-my-stinking-lord!

I was so trashed, baked, wasted, stoned… going, going, gone. I’m a lightweight, and I hate to lose control. (Now I stick to coffee, thank you.) Suddenly this gothic grimy playground was effervescent, flies dancing on the walls, furniture melting into floorboards, and Del looked just like the devil, swear t’god. Paranoia sat beside me, whispered in my ear, “He can read your mind.”

But Del wasn’t hosting fear, wasn’t trying to freak me out at all. He hadn’t even noticed I was fighting for my sanity, playing mental tug-of-war.

I tried to speak, but my lips just stuck together as I said something all marshmallow-y and stupid, “My hair is breathing.”

“Cool,” I think he said.

He didn’t really care. He was content, happy to be sitting in his kitchen; happy to be alive.

“I can’t feel my legs,” I told him.

“You’ll get over it,” he said.

Del wasn’t spewing insights, wasn’t a bit pretentious, not at all. He just wanted easy conversation. Didn’t want to think much. Hush the mind a bit.

It’s something we don’t consider until we’re old, the way a person just wants a trouble-free existence. Fame and fortune’s always hungry, and lots of work to feed. It doesn’t soothe the spirit. Doesn’t fill the holes. Friends do that and, according to Del, all his pals were dying. This was what he was muttering in his kitchen... all his goddam friends were gone.

“I’ve had good friends,” he kept saying, “Very good friends.” Then he'd get all quite, look at the floor, and just sit there, maybe have a coughing fit. (Cigarettes punched him in the chest, bruised his lungs—he never quite recovered. Nasty little cancer sticks… god how much we love 'em.)

There was a cat, I think, but I don’t remember seeing it. Maybe sleeping on the futon pushed into the corner of his bedroom. Maybe it was there, this black cat, stretched out among the crumbled mountain of covers, but I really don’t recall. I couldn’t imagine him taking care of anything. He had enough just taking care of Del.

He would show me clippings, obituaries. Some recently torn from local papers; others faded, nasty brown. This was what occupied his brilliance. Aging, spinning with the Earth, Del was reminiscing. He was sharing feelings with a stranger. Which probably made it easier, talking with a no-one-in-particular. Spilling your guts to someone that can walk away, close the door behind them, never to return … that’s a poor man’s therapy.

Or maybe he really liked me, felt a kinship, but I doubt it. He just needed an ear to burn. To confess that he was scared just like the rest of us: Of being all alone.

“Sheila died over the weekend,” Del would tell me, obituary in hand. (I think her name was Sheila.) “She really wasn’t old. Sheila… a very talented actor from San Francisco. We use to work together.” Then he’d tape her obit to the dirty kitchen window. There were quite a few, taped there, and then forgotten.

The pot and I ask him all kinds of stupid shit. “How do you approach auditions? You go in a crazed, all worked up?” He’d just stared at me, answer with a growl of sorts, “You show up, do whatever the director wants, be professional. That’s all.”
“Do you go in with an agenda?”

“Yeah… get the fucking job.”

The first time I met Del he was playing Polonius in "Hamlet" at Wisdom Bridge Theatre. It was 1985. I knew the legend that was Del Close, but not this man in front of me, sweating under the stage lights. He’s giving this killer performance and I’m racking my brain, I know this guy! He’s? He’s? Someone, somebody goddam it. Damn, I know this guy…

That night, Del hitched a ride with us. He sat next to me and we talked a bit. He was gracious, very warm. Nothing suggested he was a comedy legend, Joseph Jefferson Award winner, one of the founders of Second City, the Improv Olympic, regular on "My Mother the Car" and "Get Smart," co-author of Truth in Comedy, yadda, yadda, yadda… he just seemed content, happy to get a ride, save the cab fare. That was it. No big shakes. Simple was the man.

My next encounter with the guru was at Crosscurrents. Thom Goodman was upstairs in his grubby office on the phone, trying to manipulate the media, sell more tickets, pay the bills, while all around him the orgy continued. It was shameful really: Chicago and comedy making-out. Tonguing one another anywhere they could. High school is what it felt like. In addition, there were all these improv students hanging out, watching, taking notes.

Behind the bar was the versatile Bridget Murphy. She’d go on to create "Milly’s Orchard Show." She tended bar but at night, hit the main stage doing a sort of burlesque whereby she dressed up as a greasy fat man telling raunchy jokes, and then stripped to reveal a sexy Playboy Bunny. Somebody’s Daughters were running around half crazed, rehearsing "Bards, Broads and Sacrifice.” Mick Napier was sitting at a table with his allies, talking Metraform, while Andy Dick was jumping up and down, begging to be noticed. There was this slaphappy kid named Christopher Farley playing pinball in the hall. He was the most endearing clown that no one wanted to play with.

Del… he was sitting at the end of the bar, smoking, coughing, lurking in the shadows. He shook my hand, offered me a cigarette. I took it, lit it, and drank a beer that tasted good.

“I saw your show, 'Elmore and Gwen',” he said, never looking up.

I was waiting to get my assed kicked. I was a writer from New York, came here looking for the comedy scene, and landed in the hornet’s nest. I wasn’t one of them. I scripted everything. I was going to get stung. So, I faked I didn’t give a rat’s ass. What else to do?

He cleared his throat to mumble, “It was consistent.”

“Uh huh,” was all I said.

“It stayed the course. All your jokes were consistent with the genre. It was vaudeville… very animated. I liked it.”
Panic was dripping down the crack of my ass. I think they call that 'flop-sweat'. I told him, “Thanks, appreciated.”
“Can you write me something next time?”


Del was in my second review, "The TV Dinner Hour." To be honest, he got angry, had a fit about the gig. He wanted to be in a play, have a straight acting job. Del didn’t realize I used improv for the bones of everything I worked on. The words came after I knew whom I was writing for, the glove that fits the hand.

“Where’s the script?” he asked me, standing all crooked, smoking under the Crosscurrents’ logo.

“No script. You’re the improv guru. I’m going to use video. Just create a TV character, improvise your ass off. You’ll run on a monitor above the stage. It’ll be cool, you’ll dig it.”

“Jesus Christ… I wanted words.”

“Just video and improv.”

“Video? You’ll destroy the medium.”

He stormed off mumbling “bastard” and “Nazi” something-or-other. The sign above my head was swaying. Winter was coming. It was getting cold. A wino from across the street was pissing on the sidewalk. He looked up, gave me the finger. Thanks, I smiled back.

A week later Del cornered me in the bar, asking, “Can I do it stoned?”

“Anyway you want, man.”

We shook hands. That was it. Done.

Peter Neville, videographer, took care of all the rest. Stoned and coughing up a fit, Del committed to video one of his best-recorded improvs: The Very Reverend Thing of the First Generic Church of What’s-his-name. It played on monitors overhead that channel-surfed until it landed on his bulbous face. Scruffy talented bastard, he almost stole the show.

The "TV Dinner Hour," directed by Amy McKenzie and featuring Megan Cavanagh, (now the voice of Jimmy Neutron’s mom,) did alright, and pushed us into the arms of the sultry mistress, screwing like all the rest.

Sitting in his kitchen, I reminded him, “You called me a Nazi once.”

He laughed, saying, “I meant it as a compliment.”

Sure he did.

I showed up again, uninvited, but this time he didn’t answer. I stood there waiting. I felt his eyes peeking from between the crusty curtains. He didn’t want to talk. A squirrel was chewing on the railing that was rotting around his porch. Standing there was useless; the wizard wasn’t coming out.

I walked across the street to Charna’s place. I knocked and waited. She answered, let me in. Up the stairs to the second floor, I sat in her living room while she offered me a Coke. Her shaggy little dog just laid there on the floor. Goofy puppy had the life. It ate and slept better than most of Charna's students.

“Thanks for introducing me to Stephen,” she said. An eccentric friend, Kastner was a magnificent painter, and they were getting it on. Funky, dirty love. Everybody’s doing it.

“Sure…” I said back at her, sipping from my soda can.

“We’ve got a development deal in California, the Improv Olympic on network television. It might happen.”

She looked really tan and radiant. Striking. Younger than before. She was a happy Jewish girl.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in the guru’s kitchen once again. When he greeted me at the door, he smiled, seemed pleased that I stopped in. Before I entered, I noticed that squirrel’s drying carcass near the front porch. I think it should’ve munched on someone else’s railing. The spirit of the house reached out and got him, or that cat I never saw.

In the kitchen, Del filled a jelly jar up with soda. He still lived like college. Actually, he lived as most of his students did: like characters out of “Animal House.” This was what I was thinking as I sipped my Orange Crush, talked a little more.

“I’m losing weight,” he told me. “Stopped eating a big breakfast. I’m feeling pretty good.”

“Cutting out a breakfast?”

“Stop the bacon and eggs.”

“No shit?”

“My face is looking thinner. Better for the movie roles.”

He looked better, healthier, but the hard life wouldn’t stop punching him in the face. That’s were you saw the swelling. In the eyes, you saw the scars, the battles, the spirit drifting to the surface, flipping him the bird… shouldn’t have partied all the time. Yeah whatever. Nazi bastards.

Del loved sporting Wasteland, a somewhat autobiographical hodgepodge of stories for DC comics that he penned with John Ostrander. It was really twisted, folks. All messed up and psychedelic. Fun to look at while turning pages that almost got you high. I half expected my mother to walk in, scream at me for reading "trash." As a kid, it was something I would’ve discovered, hidden under the bed for late night reading. You know, it would’ve scared the boogeyman.

“We have something in common,” he said, broke the silence.

“Oh yeah?”

“We both ran away with traveling shows.”

“Sells and Grey,” I told him.

“Dr. Dracula's Magic Horror Show,” he countered.

“They had an elephant that still put up the big top.”

“I was a fire-eater.”


“That’s awful. I hate puppets.”

“You and everybody else.”

“I was only fifteen or so.”


Then all you could hear was the constant ruffling of paper until he blurted out, chuckled, “Could’ve been worse.”

“How’s that?”

“Could’ve been a mime.”

“Jesus, that’ll get you killed.”

“You bet.”

He sighed, I sighed and we both went back to reading for a while.

The last time I saw Del was when his theater opened up on Clark Street. It was packed with all his students, friends, and other showbiz types. I pointed to the monitors high above the stage and said, “That’ll destroy the medium.”

Del didn’t recall the conversation, and there wasn’t time to remind him. But he was glad to see me, surprised me with this goofy smile. It’s a look I’ll carry with me, the final fading image, because I never talked to him again.

I was living in New York when Del got sick and died. March 4, 1999. He was only 64. I tore his obituary from the paper, taped it to my kitchen window. I wanted to say something, but there were other people much closer to the man.

When I returned to Chicago, I went by Del’s house, saw another squirrel chewing on the railing. I picked a stone up and hurled it at the shabby thing. It wasn’t fazed at all. It just stood up, looked at me sideways, as if saying, Piss-off, the guru doesn’t live here anymore.


Richard O'Donnell

Johnny Depp is a brave man. In an age where bravery is hard to find, let alone name, Johnny Depp is a brave man that has touched my heart specific. He has reached out and taken a single finger and gently brushed it against the beating of my spirit. He has done this as a writer. He has done this as an actor. He has done this as a director. But more importantly, he has done this as a man.

The Brave, written by Paul McCudden, Johnny Depp, and D.P. Depp (based on the novel by Gregory McDonald,) and nominated at the Cannes Film Festival for a Golden Palm for Depp's performance, reveals a world of poverty that we would rather forget about. Poverty that far exceeds material possessions but evolves into a deficiency of the human spirit; exhausted through years of oppression and then neglect. Whether that poverty touches a Native American named Raphael (Depp's Character) or a Mexican named Luis (Luis Guzm's character), it seeps into the soul and inevitably alters the mind like a bitter and dangerous drug.

Poverty is something most of us will never endure, and so to see it on the screen in front of us is as distant and incomprehensible as the violence also dripping crimson from the screen these days. Unless you've sat in a ramshackled trailer wondering how to feed your family while thinking prostitution might be a viable alternative to minimum wage, a film like The Brave is a far-flung pill to swallow. We just don't get it. We view it simply as a movie to be critiqued alongside King Kong and the 40 Year Old Virgin. A better life has made us jaded and somewhat numb around the edges.

The story is straightforward and sadly sinister, whereby a forlorn Native American Indian living on a garbage-heap/trailer park with his wife and kids agrees to be tortured to death for fifty thousand dollars. Marlon Brando is McCarthy, the philosophical producer of "snuff" films, delivering a performance reminiscent of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Director Depp has allowed the camera to seize what few really understood about Brando's acting technique: simply let the camera roll and it will capture a performance that is both original and profound. McCarthy is a fiend; an angel of death with real tears in his eyes as he delicately explains how suffering excruciating pain until death is a testament to one's worth. He is no different than a pornographer defending their occupation to exploit the sufferers of sexual misconduct. That is the McCarthy character, a man who takes advantage of the wounded and victimized. Deep down, he despises all human beings, and ultimately himself.

There are wonderful scenes, touching scenes, humorous, and deeply tragic as Depp allows us to watch unencumbered by traditional tricks-of-the-trade. What's left to see and experience is an eclectic community on the brink of obliteration living in the moment and dancing recklessly on and on. There is no glamour, no Hollywood sugarcoating, just the raw visual examples of everyday people trying so desperately to endure.

Some of my favorite moments where between Raphael and Father Stratton. Passionately portrayed by Clarence Williams III, an actor of extraordinary depth (and highly underrated), his being embodied the enormous struggle any organized religion has in helping the poor carry on, to endure through faith and assured salvation. Confined by the doctrines of the church promising an afterlife of true riches, Father Stratton can only give words that serve as Band-Aids on his parishioner's ripped and bleeding souls. For he too is neglected, on hands and knees scrubbing his pews that in the city not far away would be taken care of by scores of altar boys. Sadly-money rules in all places, even sacred.

Johnny Depp is a brave man, and his film a small and mighty testament to his valor. It is, as it may be with many a great artist's work, an uncomfortable reminder that we all walk the thin blue line, and that poverty and despair can tap us on the shoulder at any moment, and swiftly push us to the other side. That if we should find ourselves there, living in the squalor, that we might be warriors for our families, and at all costs, willing to be The Brave.


Richard O'Donnell

"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," says the man dressed in black, his guitar swung around his shoulder, draped behind his back. A genuine Country Western star that was as much about rock and roll as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, and he even dug Bob Dylan too. That was John R. Cash, the man that flips his guitar around, starts strumming, and breaks through the hoots and hollers singing Folsom Prison Blues.

Wish I could have been there, heard that landmark concert in the big house. Yeah, that would be a moment to remember. Would've been nice to watch Johnny's father Ray "eye" him from the wings or survey Cash introduce Glen Sherley, asking him to take a bow. He was the inmate who penned Greystone Chapel, the song Cash finished the concert with, and which was sadly omitted from the film.

Cash struggled with inner demons, sure, just like every other artist in the world. No big deal really. He's just one of the many in that regard, but his music, his lyrics, his baritone intonations, and as important, his revelation to make his family the band that backed his image up onstage, that's the story there to tell. The Carter Family, Country Western royalty that included daughter June were present when Cash swaggered onto that Folsom Prison stage in front of thousands of incarcerated cons. So were Marshall Grant (bass), W.S. Holland (drums), Carl and Luther Perkins (electric guitar), and The Statler Brothers doing vocals. Wow. But most of that was wiped away, the excuse of the 90-minute window, Hollywood's favorite lie.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Cash all subtle and complex; I've got no problems there. And Reese Witherspoon as June was enough to make me drool, but the truth, the truth just wasn't in the spotlight. Give us less of those fictitious conversations and more of his in-studio incantations or ripping it up onstage or hanging with the band eating tenderloin on a biscuit June cooked-up. Take us there, to the simplicity of a rebel's life, and his need to make the band his family up onstage. There's the story of Johnny Cash my father used to tell.

My dad was your average blue collar Joe. He had a handsome twelve-string guitar hanging on the wall. A tall lanky, square-jawed rebel that loved to sing that Country Western. Not to mention the stacks and stacks of Nashville in our livingroom. LPs like Willie Nelson's Stardust, Roger Miller's King of the Road, Tammy Wynette's Stand By Your Man, and Dolly Parton's Just Because I'm A Woman were just a few of the stereophonic viny's in our house. But it was Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison that dad listened to all the time. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Eve my old man listened to that scratchy-old, fizz a-poppin' record croon The Green Green Grass of Home. He'd look at me and wink, drink his Miller Highlife, and nod his head in appreciation for the man dressed black on black. For like Johnny Cash, my father believed in the uncomplicated life. He left the intricate alone.

I got a sense my daddy wasn't by his lonesome. I think Cash touched a lot of men across America. Regular guys that understood his primal insolence to the bone. For after a bullet ripped a president's skull and Vietnam claimed the lives of many sons, everything was questionable. With that much anarchy about, a more tangible way of life was prayed for. That's what my dad and his buddies desired most. Make it yesterday, dear Lord.

So the movie Walk The Line missed the horseshoe (no "almost" in that game), and spiffed a story up that was way better black and white. But damn, that's what Hollywood does. A system run by bankers and get-rich-quick kids that toss minimal all to hell.

But I believe that Johnny Cash knew deep inside his soul, that life was getting way too complicated, way too thorny for the average Joe. So when he stepped onto that stage one cold day in January, 1968, to sing his ever-lovin' heart-out, he was recording for the everyman, a simpler way to go.


Brazillia R. Kreep

When Vincent Price came out t'play
All the children ran away
They’d scream and dream such awful things
Like long-fanged snakes and hornet stings
For Mr. Price was wicked, see
T’bring such woes so eerily
Yet when he finally bid adieu
All the children did boo-hoo
they loved the thrills n’ chills he laid
And prayed he would come back someday


guest writer
Brazillia R. Kreep

Good evening kings and queens of crimson goo. Tonight’s rusty vault slowly creeks open to reveal a Vincent Price immortal classic from MGM’s Midnight Movies series, a deliciously bloody tale that is a poor man’s The Crucible of sorts: Witchfinder General.

Aptly directed by Michael Reeves. (Who died an agonizing death only a year later from an accidental barbiturate overdose-and that in itself is creepy too.) This British-made drama, originally billed as Edgar Allen Poe’s The Conqueror Worm, is a truly gory affair. Vincent Price plays the malicious Matthew Hopkins, a witch hunter that is more sinful than all the poor souls he brutally tortures combined. This is a nasty psychopath that hires an even nastier psychopathic sidekick to torture and mutilate the innocent while he’s off looking for more. Before the final credits role, enough blood has splashed across the screen, enough women have screamed their bloody guts out, and enough skin has be ripped, pinched, and stabbed, that I don’t advise having the steak tartar afterwards. Really. I’m quite serious about this. This is hard to watch sometimes or just your thing if you like stopping to look at road kill . Thank goodness the blood is bright orange or more people would loose their lunches instead of laughing their heads off. Lots of Fun extras too! Well worth the bucks my frightfully fine fiends.

Special Features including Witchfinder General: Michael Reeves’ Horror Classic doc and audio commentary with Co-producer and actor Ian Ogilvy.

What Price Fame?

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Richard O'Donnell

A buddy just sent me an iCard with a picture of John and Yoko inscribed, "we miss you John."

It made me really sad. I couldn't help the tears. I remember all the hoopla that was the Beatles. The yeah-yeah days when they first arrived - all the girls on my block in Philadelphia picking their favorite in the band. I remember lunch boxes, buttons, and Saturday morning cartoons. I remember John saying we're as big as Jesus Christ and their records being burned in piles of protest throughout suburbia. I remember their switching gears, pop songs dissolving into folk rock about run away girls, "Rocky Raccoon," and "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band." I remember weekend sleepovers with friends, listening to the long version of "Hey Jude," while making-out with someone's flower child. I remember their revolution/evolution into the world of lava lamps and psychedelics. I remember the secret messages if you played LPs backwards, about burying Paul, and I am the walrus. I remember my oldest brother waiting for their next LP as if he was going to shoot it into his arm. I remember the break-ups, the harsh words, and the bitterness between old friends Paul and John. I remember the goody Linda love thing while the black-sheeps got all bare-assed for the press. I remember John's struggle kicking cigarettes, and wanting to be a stay at home dad. I remember the solo sound of the rebels that lived in the castle Dakota on my block. I remember being 20-something and dropping acid just to Imagine. And I remember meeting John and Yoko on Seventh Avenue in New York. One week later he was gone.

The Beatles were the music that carved into our consciousness everything from wacky fashion trips to earnest war protests. And so now I get this silly reminder that I'm old enough to have been there, old enough to have thought when the announcement came over the television in Gleason's Bar on seventh avenue, that John was dead, that it had to be a lie. A really awful lie. I just talked with him, stood right next to him, talking doggies in the window at this pet store on our block.

I'm heading toward my apartment on 72nd street, the West side, my starving artists days, and I see this woman with gorgeous long black hair flowing down around her bum. I was young and stupid, so I made my way to meet her. I'm not even thinking about the tall lanky guy standing next to her. There's enough space for me to slip in there between them. So I did. They're chatting away about the puppies in the window when I join in, pointing and cooing like a jerk. I glanced to my right and noticed the woman was more mature than I had expected - I thought she was a teenager from behind. Then, I get all electrified because I instantly knew that standing to my left was John Lennon. Omigawd. I desperately acted cool. And to my delight they simply kept on chatting it up about pet care or whatever. John with his accent up and down and all sing-songy just like he was famous for, and I was mesmerized for good.

The whole thing lasted only minutes, but I walked away assured; felt I handled that pretty good, leaving them alone. They lived in my neighborhood, so I saw them walking hand in hand many times before. They often took rides in the horse-drawn carriages along Central Park and one time Yoko even sent a dish of food to our block party, but this was real up close and personal - he was a Beatle after-all.

Weeks later, I'm eating burgers and drinking wine with this pretty gal I just met and the television above our heads spouts its poison. Everyone stood up. The place was completely still. Some muffled screams, a few quiet sobs, but this could not be happening. It made no sense at all.

Later, I walked by the Dakota, before it was too heavily guarded and roped off. It was already happening though. The world was in mourning. The city felt so cold, a little sinister than before. It was dreadful. Really very sad. And I couldn't help but remember standing between the lost legend and his woman, wondering why'd they let me get so close? Just people I guess. A couple of lovers on a stroll. Easy going, no big deal, just watching the wheels go round and round.


Richard O'Donnell

Alrighty then, The Ruins, according to IMDb (and they never lie) won a Golden Trailer award nomination for best horror poster. That’s right, best horror poster. Okay. There it is then. They almost won. So, go out and find the poster if you can ( and tape that puppy to your bedroom wall and quickly turn off the lights. Then, in the moonlight or with some candles flickering in the distance for effect, simply stare at it until it you scream your bloody head off. That’s about as scary as this picture ever gets. I mean, c’mon, guys, it’s about these pissed-off Mayan vines in Mexico that whisper a horror movie soundtrack right outta Children of the Corn and can giggle all cartoony and can even imitate your voice or the ring-tone on your cell phone–this is really scary stuff.

Written by Scott B. Smith (and he also penned the book I never heard of) The Ruins has some damned good acting in it. No, really. I’m being serious now. Mostly from the two sexy lead gals though: Jena Malone (remember her from Contact, playing the young Jodie Foster role? Now she’s all grown up and my-oh-my so cute) and Laura Ramsey (Lords of Dogtown) blonde bombshell with some muscle she can really pour it on. They both deliver the goods with their ample amount of beauty, brains, and brawn, plus the ability to cry and go insane with terror and snot dripping out their noses quite believably. Did I tell you that these monster vines with red flowers also love to dive into your cuts and suck the blood right out of you like long green stringy leaches-yum. And the guys aren’t too bad either, the best performance handed-in by Jonathan Tucker (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake), they just die too easily–no dramatic monologues about I could’ve been a rock star or my mother told me not come. Shame ‘cause they could’ve handled it and the plot needed some spice.

When the horror, the horror, the horror slithers around our heroes’ feet it can get kind of tense. Until you realize once again that they’re just plants. Plants, like from Munchkin land in Oz. A vine with what looks like plastic leaves t’boot. It’s hard to imagine any real danger except a truly bad case of poison ivy–yikes. And if your indulging in any illegal herbal refreshment the whole damn movie is going to turn into a giggle fest, of course. Which may not be a bad thing, I guess. Better than a total dud. Also, there’s some pretty wicked gore here and when Tucker’s character plays MD (he’s in medical school so he has everyone search for aspirin–please don’t ask) and starts lopping limbs off with a kitchen knife. And we’re not talking about the shrubbery.

But the problem is that the repulsion needed for a truly horrifying experience just isn’t enough. And there’s this whole other subplot with a tribe of Mayans trying to keep the deadly vines quarantined by killing anyone and anything in sight. Actually, the scariest part of the whole movie was the lead Mayan played convincingly by actor Sergio Calderon–he was scary as hell. Freaked the b’jesus outta me. Oh, and the thought they dumped as much money as they did into this horror shrubbery nightmare, that gave me willies for days.

Oh, and I forgot to tell you that this was the UNRATED version, way too intense for moviegoers. So, um, move away from the houseplants before you slip the DVD in. You’ve been warned.

DVD EXTRAS are pretty cool if you dug the film, like (I’m quoting the box) never-before-seen-alternate ending. Never before seen? Of course it hasn’t ‘cause it ended up on the cutting room floor. There’s an equally exciting original theatrical ending–huh? And director Carter Smith and editor Jeff Betancourt commentary that takes itself maybe a bit too seriously for deadly weeds gone amuck.


Richard O'Donnell


The Killing of John Lennon. This was hard to watch for about a second or two. I’m a big fan of John Lennon ( I remember John Lennon) and I even lived behind the castle Dakota, in The Park West, 73nd and Central Park West for 8 years. I met the legend and his Ono weeks before the killing. Like most people, I walked into his world, not the other way around. But this astounding film by Andrew Peddington set my mind at ease early on. It told me that this picture wasn’t going to be a slasher-stinky-beer-stained-carpet-in-the-trailer kinda romp, but a film that answers, for all of us… why? Why would you kill John Lennon? What the f#@k for? Are you that bored, that slam-dunk stupid, that whack-o that you pick on an immortal rock star? Mr. Beatles himself. Give peace a chance? Imagine? I’m-naked-in-the-bed with my sweetie, and the press don’t get it… That guy? Doesn’t make any sense, never has, never will. But. But. The “why” has finally and uniquely been answered. Am I gushing?

Yeah–well–you bet. Just like I did with Silence of the Lambs–that film carved itself into the skull of American pop culture while giving us Sir Tony, Ms. Jody, and Ted “it-puts-the-lotion-in-the-basket” Levine. Demme took us all hostage, forcing us into tight, really dark, dank places we’ve never seen or been to before. The Killing of John Lennon dropped me right there too, right inside Chapman’s inner sanctum. They used his diaries and court transcripts to piece it all together’s why. Glued the shattered egg that fell from hell, and landed on the upper West side to boil the bloody yoke of hate and disapproval. And because of the true-to-life leisurely pacing, the tension clings to you, like Hitchcock’s show the audience the ticking bomb theory: there it is, under the seat and ticking away. Only the audience knows it’s there. What do you do? You squirm. And squirm some more. That’s the experience. Squirming through a real live horror show. You know it’s true. We all know what happens. In this, everyone did their jobs: everybody! This is ensemble front and back, folks, and virtually flawless. It doesn’t begin or end like you think it would. It takes you right where you want to go. (Even though you’ll most likely have second thoughts once you get there.) Especially after hanging out with the ultimate loser, sitting on a dirty sofa while a sweaty Chapman tells you what he’s going to do–everything is credible.

The secondary cast is so casual, so fine-tuned that you keep forgetting it’s only celluloid. You’re casually walking “inside-the-mind-of” an infamous assassin, as if you’re actually hanging out with him. About to ask him why, man, why’d you do it? Which makes it extra disturbing when you’re standing right alongside him as he bags the elephant: a celebrity so big, so pop-f@#king right-on, that the whole world gasps. Insane. Yes he was. In my mind I think he was skipping tra-la through the rat-infested alleys of his mind. Poor schmoe though. A real nobody, a truly wounded animal, a coward needing our forgiveness, according to Yoko (which is why I always dug her the most). This all comes across in fine detail here. And one scene near the conclusion of the film, totally unexpected, and all Exorcist, had me tossing in my bed long after I pushed the eject button.