ATLFF Q&A with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Director James Gunn and Actor Michael Rooker: “Atlanta has treated us really, really well!”

Posted on: Apr 12th, 2016 By:

atlffguardiansBy Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 is now filming in Atlanta, and last week’s Atlanta Film Festival took advantage by booking a screening of the original GUARDIANS movie with a Q&A after with Gunn and actor Michael Rooker. If you heard about this event, it may have been in context of the grumpy final exchange between Gunn and a fan who asked Rooker if his GUARDIANS character, Yondu, was a just a copy of his racist redneck Merle from THE WALKING DEAD. But prior to that hiccup, the Q&A had been a lovefest between Gunn, Rooker and a roomful of appreciative fans. Here are some highlights from the rest of the session:

Gunn on taking the time to do the Q&A: “One of the reasons we wanted to come do this today is because, really, Atlanta has treated us really, really well so far. We have an amazing crew, many of whom are from Atlanta; the majority of them are from Atlanta. And it’s nice to be able to come and do something with you guys and give a little thanks for what you guys have given us. So we really just appreciate being here, and really the hospitality of the city in general. “

rocketOn GUARDIANS 2: “It’s been a lot of hard work, honestly. It’s a much bigger film. Also at the same time, a much more intimate film, more character-driven in certain ways, so it’s just a lot of work. And everybody has been on their game. The new cast members… Kurt Russell has been incredible. And Pom Klementieff… who plays a new Guardian has been just, she blows me away. She’s really been perfect.”

On directing actors: “It’s kind of like going through a dark cave and you’re looking for those moments of truth, which means that you’re kind of working together , you’re holding hands, you can’t always see exactly where you’re going, but you’re trying to find those true moments. So that often means that I’m having people do things again and again and again and again and again.”

On moving from indie films to blockbusters: “I don’t think I was ever scared of the scope. I feel like I’ve always wanted to do huge movies, so I think that I’ve always been working towards that. I’ve always been afraid of ‘are people going to like the movie,’ ‘is the movie going to make money?’ There are times on the first movie where I’d wake up at 3 a.m. and go ‘Oh no, am I making PLUTO NASH (2002)?’”

Rooker on people dressed up as GUARDIANS characters: “It’s better if they’re undressed.”

Gunn joking about Rooker: “We’ve done four movies, two webseries, two reality shows, a video game… it’s really my penance for my success. He is the cross I carry on my back. ‘OK, you can have all your dreams and your money and whatever, but you have to work with Michael Rooker.’”

Rooker on acting with pop songs: [After Gunn describes playing the pop songs on set as they’ll appear in the film] “It’s going, the music’s going. And then you hear ‘action.’ But by the time you hear ‘action,’ you’re already into the music. I’m telling you, it’s so hard to not bop along.”

Gunn on convincing the studio to hire Rooker: “There were a couple of people I had to fight for on the first movie. I had to fight for [Rooker] real hard and I had to fight for Dave Bautista. It was an uphill battle….Especially because you have these guys who are, like, 50ish year old guys, there’s a lot of them, a lot of really big actors around that age that would die to be in a Marvel project. So he’s not just auditioning against all of these other no name actors, they have to trust me to hire him over a bunch of A-list actors or guys who are just out of being A-list actors. So that’s what they had to put faith in.”

Guardians-of-the-GalaxyGunn on Rocket Raccoon: “Rocket is my inner child. The whole movie to me was based on Rocket. Marvel came to me with this movie, I thought ‘you guys are crazy,’ this sounds like an insane idea. I was driving home from the meeting and I’m like, ‘OK, let’s say there was really a talking raccoon. How would that exist? And it was really that scene is everything, GUARDIANS was built out of that, so I have a very strong emotional connection to Rocket…. Rocket is really a combination of a lot of people. I write the character. My brother Sean does all the acting on set. Bradley [Cooper] comes and does the voice. We have a whole team of animators who help with the acting there. So there’s a lot of control I have, a lot more attachment to Rocket and to Groot in that respect.”

On SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) and other movies emulating GUARDIANS’ humor: “If it’s sincere, I think that’s great. For me, honestly, the reason why GUARDIANS was successful, and I believe the reason a movie like DEADPOOL (2016) was successful is because we really are sincere about it. This is the real stuff. Everything in this movie is something I believe in. I believe in those characters. Some people think I’m crazy. Because I love that raccoon. I mean, as much as I would love my own child. Really, it’s a little bit insane. But I love those characters so much, and I love that story so much, and I love that I was a kid that was not a normal kid and felt very alone. And luckily I had some artists out there, who I could listen to their music or watch their films, whether it was David Cronenberg movies or Alice Cooper’s music, where I thought ‘goddamn I’m not the only weirdo in the world.’ And to be able to make a movie that speaks to those people, that speaks to people that feel like they’re alone or like they’re outcasts or that don’t have friends or have screwed-up families and need that connection with other living beings, that they can feel some small part of that through seeing GUARDIANS, that is why I make the movies. And that is the only reason I make them.”

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Kool Kat of the Week: The Legendary Ricou Browning and the Man Beneath the Suit, a.k.a. “The Gill-Man” Dives into the History of the Black Lagoon and Terrifies Monster Kids of All Ages at Monsterama 2015

Posted on: Sep 29th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew9.2
Managing Editor  

Ricou Browning, “The Creature”/ “The Gill-Man” extraordinaire and legendary underwater stuntman, director, actor and screenwriter will be lurking amongst the monsters at the second annual Monsterama Convention, founded by our classic monster-lovin’ fiend, friend and ATLRetro contributing writer, Anthony Taylor! Monsterama creeps into town at the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center this weekend, Oct. 2-4! Browning will be joined by a guest list filled to the blood-curdling brim with classic horror connoisseurs like independent filmmaker Larry Blamire (THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA); horror history aficionado and documentarian, Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures [July 2014; See ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Daniel here]; Shane Morton, ghost host with the most, a.k.a. Professor Morte [June 2011; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Shane, here]; Victoria Price (daughter of the legendary Vincent Price); spooktacular actresses, Lynn Lowry (THE CRAZIES; SHIVERS) and Candy Clark (AMERICAN GRAFFITI; THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH); glamour ghoul Madeline Brumby [October 2011; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Madeline, here] and so much more! So, haunt on down to Monsterama this weekend and prepare for a ghastly weekend of ghoulishly maniacal mayhem!

CFBL-1
Browning, the last of the original Universal Monsters is best known for his portrayal of “The Gill-Man” (underwater scenes) in Jack Arnold’s monster classics, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954); REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955); and THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956). He began his cinematic career at Wakulla Springs performing in underwater sports newsreels (alligator wrestling and more!) with Grantland Rice Films, and even played a role in bringing to life, with his “hose breathing technique,” the famous Weeki Wachee Mermaids, whose shows he later produced. Browning’s cinematic career spans many decades and genres, including underwater sequence work for Richard Fleischer’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954); Terence Young’s THUNDERBALL (1965); Harold RamisCADDYSHACK (1980); and an episode of BOARDWALK EMPIRE (2010). He is also co-creator, with Jack Cowden, of the beloved ‘60s television series (and films) FLIPPER, and so much more! In 2006, Browning was awarded Film Florida’s first Florida Legends Award, followed by his induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2012 for his wide range of cinematic accomplishments.

ATLRetro caught up with Ricou Browning for a quick interview about the birth of and morphing into “The Gill-Man”; about his expansive experience in the land of film; and his take on special effects and monster kids of all ages! And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Browning, catch “The Creature” in action here!

ATLRetro: As the only actor to portray “The Creature” more than once, you will forever be known as “The Gill-Man” to monster kids worldwide. And of course, we at ATLRetro are “Creature” fanatics! Can you tell our readers a little about how Jack Arnold discovered you for the role of “The Gill-Man,” and what kept you swimming back for more?

Ricou Browning: I was attending Florida State University when I got a phone call from the general manager of the hotel at Wakulla Springs and a friend of mine, Newt Perry. He said that he had some people from California coming to the Springs to look at it as a location to make a movie. He asked me if I would pick them up at the airport and take them to the Springs and show them around since he would be out of town. I said sure. So I did. After they arrived at the Springs, they loved it: the beautiful river and the wildlife; the clear water of the spring. The cameramen Scotty

Ricou Browning and Ginger Stanley

Ricou Browning and Ginger Stanley

Welbourne asked me if I would swim in front of the camera so he could get some perspective of the size of a human being compared to the fish, the grass, the logs, etc. So I did. They enjoyed the Springs and they enjoyed the river. Afterwards I took them back to the airport and they left.

About a week later I got a call from Newt Perry again, and he said that they were trying to get a hold of me from California and that he gave them my phone number. That same day I got a call from Jack Arnold, who turned out to be the director of the film. He said, “We saw the photo footage that Scotty shot. We like the way you swim. How’d you like to play the part of an underwater monster?” I said, “sure, why not?” So I went to California and spent a number of weeks building the costume, and it turned out to be a bad one. So they remade the suit, and I came back to Florida and we started shooting the underwater sequences for the film.

Any special behind the scenes experiences you’ like to share with our readers?

One experience that I had is that while filming we shot in the wintertime and even though the water temperature was 71 degrees while the air temperature was around 49 degrees, we worked from a barge down in the middle of the spring and I was in and out of the water all day. After coming out of the water, they would take the head off my suit and my hands and my feet and I would be sitting there waiting to go over the next scene. I was shivering and the crew felt sorry for me. So every now and then somebody would come back to give me a little shot of brandy. After a few shots of brandy The Creature couldn’t swim very well, so they had stop that.

18s3mkqkk4g3mjpgYou got the joy of terrifying generations of unsuspecting audiences as a classic Universal monster, which of course spawned fan-driven conventions, such as Monsterama Con. What do you think it is that keeps generation after generation returning to classic monster movies? Tell us a little about your fans over the years.

I didn’t start getting requests for photographs until about 20 years after the film was made. I only had a few at that time, so I would mail them to the fans and then I’d get more requests. I gradually built up a large number of pictures and started attending shows signing autographs.

What do you think about the advent of computerized special effects and the more hands-off approach to filmmaking?

They talk about making a remake of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Whether they will or not, I don’t know. But I hope they make it very similar to the way we did it, with human beings and not just computer special effects, because they overdo that. I think if it were done sparingly, it would be okay.

When you were growing up, did you dream of working on films? Or did the chance just happen upon you? Can you tell our readers a little about your introduction to the industry?MPW-10605

The first time that I worked underwater on films, it was for Grantland Rice Sports Films. They did crazy things at the Wakulla Springs like underwater picnics, underwater prize fights, etc.  They made a bunch of different crazy things that were used as short subjects at the end of movies in a theater.

Who were your favorite monsters as a kid?

My favorite monster was “The WolfmanLon Chaney Junior.

You have proven over many decades to be a well-sought after jack of all trades (underwater cinematographer, stuntman, actor, producer, director, screenwriter, etc.), and you’re still at it! What project would you say is your favorite?

I think one of my favorite movies that I worked on was FLIPPER. Jack Cowden and I created the television show FLIPPER, on air for four years (’64-’67), and then we made the two features (1963; 1996).

We read that you and your team were chosen over Jacques Cousteau to provide your services for several James Bond films, including THUNDERBALL (1966). Did you enjoy working on the Bond films?

I really enjoyed working on the James Bond films, THUNDERBALL and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.

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Long Live the New Flesh! Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre present VIDEODROME!

Posted on: Mar 6th, 2014 By:

Splatter Cinema presents VIDEODROME (1983); Dir. David Cronenberg; Starring James Woods, Deborah Harry and Jack Creley; Tuesday, March 11 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch booth open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s one of those great instances when a bloody, nightmarish horror flick gives you something important to chew on afterwards. Splatter Cinema is back at the Plaza Theatre to take a mind-bending trip into the head of David Cronenberg with what may be his best film to date, VIDEODROME!

I’ve got something I want to play for you.

There are horror movies, and there are horror movies. And then, there are David Cronenberg movies. Easily one of the most facile writers/directors in blending the highbrow and lowbrow, his films typically explore themes and concepts that appeal to the art film crowd while simultaneously delivering the kind of gut-level shocks and bloody special effects that made his movies a mainstay in the pages of FANGORIA. And while other films of his may have appealed to broader audiences and been more financially successful, or even dealt with headier concepts (like the nature of humanity itself in THE FLY), nothing compares to his masterpiece, VIDEODROME.

I’m looking for something that will break through. Something tough.
–Max Renn

It’s 1983 Toronto, and Max Renn needs new programming for his TV station, channel 83 or CIVIC-TV. (“CIVIC-TV: the one you take to bed with you!”) His associate Harlan, who runs the station’s pirate satellite receiver and descrambles international broadcast feeds, calls Max down to his office to show him a curious new program seemingly originating out of Malaysia: Videodrome. It’s nothing but brutal violence. No plot. No story. And if it’s faked, it’s very realistically done. But it also carries a strange mind-control signal, and Max soon finds himself hallucinating wildly and caught in a war between the two parties who want control of Videodrome.

The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.
–Professor Brian O’Blivion

Central to the plot of the movie are the philosophical statements of Professor Brian O’Blivion, one of the co-creators of Videodrome. Based upon Marshall McLuhan (whom Cronenberg had studied under at university), his in-film theories about the extension of “the screen” as a new part of how we view the world take the film far beyond just a tale of good and evil and into an examination of how we process what we expose ourselves to. In the Professor’s view, television is integral to functioning as a society, and his daughter extends this theorizing into the brick-and-mortar world by running the Cathode Ray Mission, devoted to allowing the city’s homeless to watch TV in order to better acclimate them to the world we live in. They’re not only showing their flock what the world is like, but the reality that the rest of the world is embracing so that they can better fit in. Ultimately, the Professor’s philosophy comes down to a central question: who is programming the signal you’re tuning into? Are you passively allowing others to create your reality, or are you seizing autonomy and programming it yourself?

I think we live in overstimulated times. We crave stimulation for its own sake. We gorge ourselves on it. We always want more, whether it’s tactile, emotional or sexual. And I think that’s bad.
–Nicki Brand

If there is a single criticism I have of Cronenberg’s questioning, it is that it’s possibly too naïve. I think he raises numerous issues that have real relevance to our contemporary media fascination, but he didn’t (and quite probably couldn’t) have predicted the extent to which the screen has come to dominate our lives. I mean, how long has it been since you’ve looked away from the screen on which you are reading this article? How long will it be before you look at another screen—a TV, your phone, your tablet, your laptop? How much screen time do you log in at your job? And, further, what is your emotional relationship with those screens? How many friends do you have whom you only contact through the screen? How many acquaintances have you made via Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr that you have never physically met? Are those people—and the feelings you have for them—any less real because they seem to only exist in pixels and sets of ones and zeroes? How much of your reality is dictated by the screen you are looking at right now? And, back to Cronenberg’s question, who is in control of what you are seeing?

But why would anybody watch it? Why would anybody watch a scum show like Videodrome?
–Barry Convex

In the world of the film, control of the Videodrome signal is in the hands of Barry Convex, head of Spectacular Optical (“We make inexpensive glasses for the third world and missile guidance systems for NATO. We also make Videodrome, Max.”). Covex wants to toughen up North America by ridding it of the kind of degenerate low-lifes who would get off on a show like Videodrome. And it’s between the idealistic O’Blivion (who believes that the Videodrome signal can be used to create a new, direct relationship between video and our bodies) and the fascistic Convex that Renn finds himself, his programming being rewritten by both sides. From the film’s start, Max’s programming and re-programming results in violent hallucinations. We, the viewers, are never entirely sure if what we’re seeing is objective reality or Max’s imagined reality brought on by video feed. But as O’Blivion states, there is no real difference. Reality is entirely subjective, and our perceptions dictate what our reality consists of. (And, anyway, the ultimate irony is that there is no objective reality we are viewing—we are watching an imagined scenario enacted by James Woods, Debbie Harry, et al. and directed by David Cronenberg. Note how many frames we see within the film, informing us that what we are watching is constantly being framed by unseen hands.)

This film is the first of a Cronenberg trilogy that wrestles with the questions of addiction, the subjective nature of “reality” and whether the distinction between the real and imagined makes any difference. In this film, the addiction is to the screen. The other two films are NAKED LUNCH (in which William Lee’s submission to addiction and descent into drug-induced hedonism in the Interzone blur the lines between fantasy and reality) and EXISTENZ (which basically transposes the storyline of VIDEODROME into the immersive world of video games). Clearly, the issues of releasing control of your own programming to outside sources and who is ultimately responsible for crafting your own reality loom large in Cronenberg’s artistic output.

What are you waiting for, lover? Let’s perform. Let’s open those neural floodgates.
–Nicki Brand

Legend has it that Cronenberg was inspired to make this film after a viewing of Joe D’Amato’s infamous 1977 sexploitation flick EMANUELLE IN AMERICA. The film contains a snippet of an 8mm torture loop that leads journalist Emanuelle to uncover an international snuff film ring. The seemingly incongruous inclusion of this brutal footage in what was billed as a Big Sexy Movie (the matter is introduced and dropped at the tail end of the picture with no real justification) led Cronenberg to explore that juxtaposition in VIDEODROME. And while it may be easy to see the film as a criticism of the media’s exploitation of sex and violence to entice viewers, Cronenberg is more complex than that. He doesn’t really take a stand for or against it. While our hero Max Renn glibly defends his TV station’s programming as catharsis for viewers who can’t turn to the real world to vent their subconscious (interesting, given that the Videodrome signal breaks down the barrier between TV and the “real“ world and unleashes that catharsis across what becomes a false boundary), he is also depicted as a total sleaze, so it’s hard to take his explanation at face value.

But Cronenberg himself, outside of the film, has long used a potent mix of eroticism and brutality as the materials with which he crafts his films. Whether it’s the murderous hedonism of SHIVERS, porn star Marilyn Chambers spreading violent madness in RABID or the car accident fetishism of CRASH, Cronenberg has long embraced the taboo duo of sex and violence in his work. So it’s not a blanket condemnation of the raw materials he’s engaging in, but a criticism of intent. In the film, witnessing extreme violence makes the viewer more open to receiving the Videodrome signal, and thus easier for Convex’s team to control or subdue. Cronenberg isn’t asking the viewer to eschew the primal pleasure that comes from viewing sex and violence, but to question why it’s being presented; to, again, seize autonomy and control your programming.

So, yeah. This is a heavy flick. Deals with some weighty issues. But it’s also wildly entertaining. VIDEODROME handles its subject matter with a fair dose of wit and satire. While it’s ultimately a grim parable, James Woods’ high-energy performance rockets the movie along at a brisk pace. With an actor even a slight bit more leaden than Woods, the film would slow to a crawl and collapse under its own weight. Debbie Harry as Nicki Brand delivers a memorable performance that would never lead you to believe that she was a relative newcomer to acting. It’s one of the few believable “rock star-to-actor” transitions you’ll see. Cronenberg effectively captures the scenes of S&M between Woods and Harry with the right combination of disturbing frankness and eroticism, while Rick Baker’s effects work ratchets up the film’s increasingly surreal tone. (Never before has a TV cabinet been more sexual!) Some of the film’s visuals—particularly the flesh-gun that Woods’ hand becomes—evoke the nightmarish visions of H.R. Giger. It is one of the few movies that would play just as well at MOMA or in some grindhouse theater of years gone by. It’s a masterpiece from one of the cinema’s most accomplished directors. It is not to be missed.

But be careful. It bites.

Long live the new flesh.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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