Book Review: “The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 and My Life of Impossibilities” By: Wayne Kramer

“The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 and My Life of Impossibilities”
Author: Wayne Kramer
Da Capo
Hardcover: 311 pages

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 and My Life of Impossibilities” is the story of legendary guitarist Wayne Kramer. From his childhood in Detroit where he found inspiration from the likes Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones to his pursuit of “avant rock” with his group the MC5. Released via Da Capo Press “The Hard Stuff” is a 311 page biography recounting a life of rock and roll excess to prison confinement making all stops in between and any there-after.

As gritty as the ground breaking groups music “The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 and My Life of Impossibilities” is a brutally honest, in-depth look at M5 founding member Wayne Kramer’s life. Told by the man himself Kramer recounts his upbringing in a home with an abusive stepfather and how he channeled his inner frustrations about the world around him into some of the MC5’s most notable material. Though I found the chapters recounting his time with the band the following chapters after the group disbanding was where my attention was really held. Kramer painstakingly tells of his time in prison after a drug bust and the years after in which he struggled with addiction up through reconnecting with his biological father.

“The Hard Stuff” is a roller coaster ride of emotion that keeps the reader interested and turning the pages. Not many people (if any) have had a life like Wayne Kramer and this book makes that abundantly clear. You don’t need to be a fan of Kramer’s music to enjoy this book as the author speaks his truth and does not shy away from darker periods of his life or difficult subject matter. For those hoping to catch the MC5 on the 50th anniversary tour this is the perfect foundation to help connect or reconnect with one of rock music’s most influential artists/groups.

Wayne Kramer talks about directing “Pawn Shop Chronicles”

Wayne Kramer is the director of the “Pawn Shop Chronicles”, which has an epic cast including Paul Walker, Kevin Rankin, Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser, Vincent D’Onofrio, Thomas Jane, Matt Dillon and Lukas Haas. Wayne has directed other recent films as well including “The Cooler”, “Running Scared” (also with Paul Walker) and “Crossing Over”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Wayne about this crazy fun film and how he achieve the feeling of watching a graphic novel coming to life.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you become attached to direct “Pawn Shop Chronicles”?
Wayne Kramer: I was originally talking to Paul Walker about directing him in a script that I had written, but it was having some difficulty getting set-up. Paul was already attached to “Pawn Shop” and when the original director fell out, he called me up and asked if I would be interested in coming on board because it was already financed and ready to go. I was initially reluctant because the budget was quite low and I was only looking to direct my own projects, but I read the script (by Adam Minarovich) out of a courtesy to Paul. I was immediately taken with it. I appealed to my sick sense of humor and I also enjoyed the more surreal aspects of the world Adam created. I also felt that the material would allow me to bring a certain fun filmmaking style to the piece, if we could figure out how to get there on such a low budget.

MG: From the moment the movie starts its feels like you are watching a graphic novel come to life, tell us about how you achieved that aspect?
WK: Upon first reading the script, I felt it required a very stylized, almost Tex Avery-ish approach. Despite the lazy critical assessment that we ripped-off Tarantino (I get this on every film – and it pisses me off to no end because I’ve never been influenced by Quentin’s films, but it’s clear that we share many of the same influences: De Palma, Peckinpah, Aldrich, Hill, etc.), my initial feeling was that PAWN SHOP belonged in a universe that felt like a cross between early Coen Brothers (“Raising Arizona”, “Big Lebowski”, “O Brother…”) and 70’s revenge/exploitation themed films like “White Lightning” and “Prime Cut”. The more I played around with it in pre-production, I started to pick up on a “Creepshow” meets “Crumb” kinda vibe as well – in that the actual storylines felt like something from old EERIE COMICS with a Redneck flavor to them. It’s a whole stew of whacky influences hopefully stirred into its own original thing. I just have to say, it’s near impossible for any filmmaker to escape the shadow of “Pulp Fiction” when telling an anthology crime story and it infuriates me in that’s the first thing film illiterate critics glom onto. Aside from one wink at “Pulp Fiction” about Alton’s brother being killed in a pawn shop on the west coast(which was always in Adam’s script and in hindsight, I probably should have cut), PULP was the furthest thing from our minds.

MG: How was it reuniting with Paul Walker and putting him in such a unique role?
WK: It was a blast working with Paul again. He’s the most game actor I’ve ever worked with and gives nothing less than 100 percent each time. We share the same sensibility when it comes to dark, kick-ass material, so it’s never a battle of wills when we get on the set. He’s also the kind of actor that always has the
director’s back and as a filmmaker you couldn’t ask for anything more. Paul is also a producer on PAWN SHOP, so he had a little more invested than just turning up and focusing on his own character.

MG:  Let’s talk about the rest of the cast, how did you gather all this great talent together?
WK: Well, once a film gets greenlit, you just start moving ahead and word gets out that the film is happening and agents start doing their thing, which is to get work for their clients and somehow it all just falls into place. I was super thrilled when Matt Dillon agreed to play Richard because Matt’s an actor I’ve always loved and thankfully he also turned out to be a joy to work with. I honestly think Matt had the most difficult role to pull off in the film because the leap his character makes tonally in just a few hours is insane and I don’t think many actors without Matt’s subtle comedic chops could have pulled it off. It felt to me like he was channeling Bruce Campbell circa EVIL DEAD towards the end there with his manic hysteria. I had met with Vincent D’Onofrio a few months earlier and he had a great take on Alton and thankfully it worked out and he ended up in the film. Vincent was another amazing actor to work with. I’d love to do anything with him in the future. Brendan Fraser really came and invested himself in the character and it was hysterical to watch him disappear into Ricky every day. He had the most difficult schedule on the film, having to fly in and out of Louisiana several times to accommodate his character turning up all over the schedule. We were also lucky to fit Elijah Wood into a very tight window as well and he was a total soldier for his few days on the film since he had to wear a very uncomfortable and complicated make-up rig, which he never ever complained about. Super cool guy and a total fan of the genre. I think one of the most exciting additions to our cast was Kevin Rankin as Randy, Raw Dog’s partner in crime. Kevin is the consummate actor and just disappears inside every character he plays. I didn’t even realize until we were a few days into shooting that he played the character of Devil on “Justified,” a show I’m a huge fan of. I also have to commend Pell James for having the courage to take on the role of Cyndi. She’s virtually unrecognizable in the part and we only see her clothed one time in a quick flashback moment – so she has my undying respect. She also happens to be an incredibly talented actor who should be doing way more movies. I’ve been friends with Thomas Jane for quite some time and he was kind enough to agree to play The Man for me, which I think is a fun little cameo. Another actor that should be working more often – and on bigger films. Same goes for Lukas Haas who was another joy to work with. We got very, very lucky with the cast and I hope to work with all of them again at some point.

MG:  Tell us about your decisions to switch aspect ratios between each segment?
WK:  I was just having some fun with some of the faux Sergio Leone type moments in each chronicle. The arrival of The Man felt like it wanted to be in widescreen, almost like those old Marlboro ads that played in movie theaters (it was probably more an international cinema thing because I saw them in South Africa when I was a kid and we saw a lot of commercials before the main feature started). When Matt Dillon faces off against Michael Cudlitz, it felt like it warranted a similar aspect ratio gag – and when Brendan Fraser’s Elvis impersonator arrives in front of the barber shops, again, I felt like it was almost a classical western motif of the stranger come to town. Having an aspect ratio gag in each chronicle also created a visual commonality between all three stories and for me is a reminder of the tongue in cheek approach to the film.

MG:  What was the biggest challenge of entwining these three segments together?
WK: I think the biggest challenge was taking three tonally very different stories and trying to make them fit within the same narrative. We jump from a Tex Averystyle, madcap Hillbilly episode to a darkly humorous Southern Gothic revenge story, to a more comedic take on the musician meeting the Devil at mythical crossroads in the deep South. But if someone looks a little deeper at the film, they will see a fun subtext about the town of Erwin, Georgia being purgatory and all the (morally dubious) characters coming through the portal of the pawn shop being challenged to make choices that decide their very fates. We buried lots of Satanic imagery throughout the film, some more obvious than others. There are pentagrams carved into the tables of the barbecue joint, which is also called “Lou’s Fire Pit” as in Lucifer, which features a very hellish red color motif. JJ gets his face burned into the seal of the smoker which reads, “Holy Smokes.” The meth lab goes up in hell fire… Satan makes a deal for Ricky’s soul by transforming him into Elvis for four minutes on stage… The liquor store with the blues player out front is called Cross Roads Liquor and the address is 666 Charon Street… The liquor store also has a painted clock sign with no hands suggesting time has stopped in this town. We have creepy, featureless masks on some of the carnival extras – if you look carefully, you’ll see them at times. Some of the girls at the carnival are also holding little devil dolls. Many other references as well…

MG: What do you have planned next?
WK: I’ve got a bunch of irons in the fire. It’s hard to talk about them until they actually get greenlit. I may be doing another film with Alec Baldwin (and Patrick Wilson) next year, so I’m really looking forward to that.


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Wayne Newton reflects on celebration 50 years in show business

There were many great entertainers that made their mark in Las Vegas. Frank Sinatra. Dean Martin. Even Elvis Presley wowed audiences in Sin City. But when you hear someone talking about Mr. Las Vegas, you know they’re only talking about one man: Wayne Newton.

Celebrating 50 years in show business this year, Mr. Newton has conquered every arena he’s tried his hand in. Best known for his signature song, “Danke Shoen,” as well as hits like “The Summer Wind,” “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast,” “Years” and “Red Roses For A Blue Lady,” Newton boasts over 30,000 solo shows in Las Vegas alone.

Fans may have also caught him on television (from “Bonanza” to an appearance on the 5th Season of “Dancing with the Stars,” with many great performances in between) or in such films as “License to Kill,” “The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine” and “Vegas Vacation.”

Now, at the age of 70, Newton is taking his act on the road, giving fans all over the country a taste of his Vegas-style show. He’ll be appearing this Saturday evening, September 15, 2012, at the Prairie

Band Casino in Mayetta, Kansas. While preparing for his upcoming Midwest appearance, Mr. Newton took the time to answer some questions for Media Mikes:

Mike Smith: You’ve achieved a rare career milestone by celebrating 50 years of entertaining. After all of those years do you still approach each show the same?
Wayne Newton: Yes. I never take for granted walking out on those boards. Every audience is new and they deserve the best show that I can possibly give. At my shows, the first song is planned and the rest of the show depends on the audience. What I think that particular audience would like to hear. It keeps it fresh for the audience and all of us on stage. Most of all, the musicians can never sleep during the show (laughs)

MS: You spent the early part of your career opening for such legendary entertainers as Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason and George Burns. Did you have a favorite to work with?
WN: I have been very lucky to have worked with, and learned from, so many incredible talents. Not

only the ones you mentioned but people like Lucille Ball and Bobby Darin. They really took me under their wing and each of them taught me and helped me in so many ways that I could not just pick one. I would not have the career I have without each of them.

MS: You showed off your skills when you appeared on “Dancing with the Stars.” As the show is now going the route of having previous stars return would you consider doing it again?
WN: Do what again? (laughs) Seriously, I loved doing “Dancing With the Stars” and dancing with the amazing Cheryl Burke. I made a lot of incredible friends that I remain close to still today. But it was really difficult. Not the friend part, the dancing part. You have no idea how much hard work goes into it and I don’t know if I would do it again. But then again, they would have to invite me.

MS: You recently lent your voice to the “Fallout: New Vegas” video game. Is this a medium you’d like to get more involved in?
WN: Having never played a video game in my life I found it fascinating. I had voiced animated films in the past but nothing like this…where what I say is decided by the player. Because of that option I had to do so many responses to the same situation. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out until the premiere party for the video. I am more amazed at the response from young people who play the game. It’s made me very popular at my 10 year old daughter’s school!

MS: You’ve had some memorable screen roles in films like “The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine” and “Vegas Vacation.” Did you ever consider making acting a full-time profession? And is there a role you’ve turned down that, in hindsight, you wish you hadn’t?
WN: I love acting and would love to do more of it. I prefer to do roles that are not “Wayne Newton”…roles that give me an opportunity to do things that are so out of character for me. I was able to do that in films like “Ford Fairlaine,” “License to Kill” and “40 West.” And while I don’t regret turning down any roles I am very careful with what roles I choose. I have to find a redeeming quality in any character. Even the villains. And sometimes there just isn’t one. I also have to be careful when I play “myself” because I have to make sure I don’t cross the line of “What Wayne Newton Would or Would Not Do.” (laughs) Referring to myself in the 3rd person can get very confusing. I have to protect “Wayne Newton” even though I truly am “Wayne Newton.”

For more information about Mr. Newton’s appearance this weekend please click here:

Interview with Wayne Stables

Born in New Zealand, Wayne Stables turned his interest in computers into a computer science degree. His first foray into the field was the creation of education software that encouraged a more graphics-oriented approach to learning. In 1994 he joined the staff of Peter Jackson’s WETA Digital Company, where he worked on such films as “Contact,” “The Frighteners,” “Avatar” and, of course, the Academy Award winning “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. His work can also be seen in “Shrek 2” and several films in the “Harry Potter” series.

His work can currently be seen in the new Steven Spielberg film, “The Adventures of Tintin” on which Stables served as a visual effects supervisor. As the film neared it’s opening date Mr. Stables took the time to talk to Media Mikes from his office in New Zealand.

Mike Smith: What time is it there (as the conversation begins it’s currently 6:00 pm Monday evening in Kansas City)?
Wayne Stables: It’s one in the afternoon on Tuesday. We get Christmas before you do. (laughs)

MS: That’s something to look forward to if you’ve been a good boy! You get your presents earlier.
WS: Of course it also means I get to work earlier on Monday morning (laughs)

MS: You obviously worked with motion capture on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Is there a difference in your approach to the process for an animated film versus a live action feature?
WS: That depends on who’s making the movie. With Steven Spielberg on “Tintin” he created the motion capture process with the actors as if he was shooting live action. Shot for shot for shot. Directing them in a very traditional process. But the way James Cameron directed them in “Avatar” was slightly different. But the technology itself doesn’t really change. I suspect it’s more what the director is comfortable with…how it fits in the way they work.

MS: After college you created educational software. What drew you to filmmaking?
WS: My first job was working on PCs….back when PCs almost didn’t exist. They would run four megahertz if you were lucky. And the educational software I was involved with was all based on graphics and sound. Even then, when I was writing software, graphics were a big part of my life. As for how I ended up in the film industry…the film industry at the time in New Zealand, at least at WETA Digital, was only a couple of people. You either came to it from a purely art background or a software background. And I came to it from a software background.

MS: Did you have any influences? Any visual effects people you admired?
WS: There were several people who I found amazingly inspirational. For me it started when I was very, very young with a movie called “Star Wars.” And then as I was growing up I saw movies like “Blade Runner.” And those movies played a fantastic part to me in my career. Getting to work with people from Industrial Light and Magic and other companies. There’s a huge list of people whose work I admire and respect. All of the people that came before I did, whose work has inspired me to do what I do today. There are so many but I really should mention Joe Letteri. The first time I saw his dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” was one of those life moments when you think, “oh my God, this is amazing!” And to work with Joe, who had helped design the look of those dinosaurs, was pretty great.

MS: Steven Spielberg is a very visual director. Was he easy to collaborate with?
WS: He was fantastic to collaborate with! He was very, very clear in his direction. He was very open and welcoming to ideas. I had a great time working on the film and working with him. The director is very, very visual. And he obviously knows his craft very, very well. He can look at something and give you very precise…very clear feedback on it.

MS: You are identified as Wayne “Taz” Stables in the end credits for the “Lord of the Rings” films. Any significance in your nickname?
WS: It’s from the Tasmanian Devil (the Warner Brothers cartoon character). It came from playing ball many, many years ago. There was another guy on my team also called Wayne as well. But I always wore a cap that had Taz on it and for some reason it stuck as a nickname. There are large numbers of people that use it that have no idea what my first name is. (laughs)


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