Wednesday, December 12, 2012


The first issue of COMIC BOOK CREATOR magazine (APRIL 2013 from will feature a look at Jack Kirby's creations and an interview with Fran Rowe Robbins, widow of the late, great comic book artist Frank Robbins, of "The Invaders," "Legion of Monsters" & "Human Fly" fame.
I'm extremely, extremely proud and honored to be named associate editor on the new, upcoming publication COMIC BOOK CREATOR, especially considering its editor-in-chief, Jon B. Cooke, is arguably the greatest comics journalist
 out there; the driving force of the late, great COMIC BOOK ARTIST magazine.

Here's a peek at the cover for COMIC BOOK CREATOR #1 (April), a dynamic Kirby tribute by "Kingdom Come" artist Alex Ross!

Jon wrote the stories on Jack "King" Kirby and Kurt Busiek. My contribution to #1 is a look at Frank Robbins' final years in Mexico, featuring interviews with his widow, Fran Robbins, and his buddy, Archie Comics artist Stan Goldberg.

Jon and I have a lot of fun stuff planned for the issues ahead so be sure to like our Comic Book Creator Facebook page and stay tuned at

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Grrr-rr-rr! It's the Werewolf by Night! 

                                     The tag's Jack with a Russell in front of it.
Check out the brand new Mike Ploog cover!
MARVEL FIGURINE COLLECTION magazine (the monthly mag that comes with the figurine), after quite a few years, is wrapping up in January 2013...but not without a bang. Issue #188 features a character I personally championed and lobbied for--WEREWOLF BY NIGHT--and editor John Tomlinson, who shares my love of Marvel horror (he edited some terrific issues of MFC devoted to Marvel horror heroes, including Tomb of Dracula and my first MFC issue as a writer, the Son of Satan, also digs the adventures of Jack Russell----as told by writer Doug Moench (personally, my favorite of all Bronze Age writers along with Steve Englehart) and artist Don Perlin, who has given us so many great moments in books such as  "Ghost Rider," "The Defenders," and "Team America." By the way, I have two articles in MFC #188 - a character history ("Life & Times") and "Behind the Scenes," which features highlights from my interviews with Moench and Perlin.
Moench and Perlin came aboard WEREWOLF BY NIGHT in the teens of the mag and stayed until its cancellation with #43 (the second of a two-parter guest-starring the Invincible Iron Man). Perlin's take on the character was delicious, his design of the Werewolf appropriately fierce and primitive, his storytelling clear and concise, while Moench really got into the first-person narrative stuff with a gusto that Steve Gerber exhibited on "The Macabre Man-Thing." Together, the duo created, as a villain, arguably in the top three characters to come out of '70s Marvel, Moon Knight (up there with Wolverine and the modern Ghost Rider). Moench/Perlin ran Moon Knight in #32-33 of WBN and also did a pair of Moon Knight issues in "Marvel Premiere." Then Moench took Moon Knight to further heights in the character's own series, drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, who cut his teeth on that book and even brought back the Werewolf in the early 30s issues of MOON KNIGHT. Classic stuff!

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT - A great Bronze Age series that you can find in two editions of "Essential Werewolf By Night," the second part being pure Moench/Perlin. Highly recommended!

I am so proud to be affiliated with MARVEL FIGURINE COLLECTION and damn double proud to have worked on my stories with as fantastic an editor as Eaglemoss' John Tomlinson. What makes him a fantastic editor, by the way, is that not only does he know how to edit, but he's a fantastic person (Unfortunately, that second part is often missing from many other editors I've worked with, so I really appreciate John's professionalism). With a good vision, great humor, and definitely bottomless patience, he has assisted me in bringing the best out of my articles. We've had some very fun collaborations on issues spotlighting such characters as the Beetle, James Jonah Jameson, Tiger Shark, Triton of the Inhumans, Silver Sable and now, the Werewolf. John has done excellent work editing the articles and laying them out with some glorious old school and new school visuals. Of course, any faithful reader of MARVEL FIGURINE COLLECTION magazine knows how much fun they can be. 

Thank you, John, for the great assignments.


I'd like to also thank so many of the terrific creators who have contributed to making these articles great. In the case of Moench and Perlin, they are personal heroes of mine so WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is a special issue for me. In other issues, Chris Claremont, Bob McLeod, Al Milgrom, Mike Deodato, Jr., and Danny Fingeroth were among the greats who have given me tremendous feedback. 

And I want to single out the great writer Stan Lee, co-architect of the Marvel Comics Universe himself, for not only lending me quotes for my articles every time, but for getting back to me on them the same day (!!). He's a very patient man, that Smilin' Stan!


Finally, don't be shy - go to the website and take a gander at all the great figurines that have been issued by Eaglemoss across MFC's run -- they're fun to scroll through -- and buy a copy of MFC #188...just because owning a Werewolf by Night figurine in 2012-13 is pretty darn sweet!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Meet COMIC BOOK CREATOR Magazine, coming this Spring from Jon B. Cooke!

Jon B. Cooke, editor of the legendary and award-winning comic-book journalism magazine Comic Book Artist, is returning to TwoMorrows in the Spring with the brand new magazine Comic Book Creator. I'm honored to be helping out with this excit
ing new magazine on the roster as its associate editor.

Please 'like' the new Comic Book Creator Magazine page....

....and if you have any ideas/access to people regarding profiles, company histories, those kind of stories in the comic book world, PM myself or Jon B. Cooke at Facebook with your ideas and contacts! Thanks! -- Michael Aushenker

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My writer's cut: Behind the scenes of "BRING IT ON 5: FIGHT TO THE FINISH"

"Bring It On: Fight to the Finish" cast: Meagan Holder, Nikki SooHoo, Tony Gonzalez (choreographer), Rachele Brooke Smith, Holland Roden, Vanessa Born
‘Fight’ Club

The talent behind the Malibu-set and -shot cheerleader comedy sequel share their experiences of ‘bringing it on’ in the ‘Bu

by Michael Aushenker

If you’re among the baffled wondering why a successful “Bring It On” musical was launched last year a decade after the release of the feature film hit, consider that the popularity of the Kirsten Dunst cheerleader comedy has never waned. Can you cheer “S-T-R-A-I-G-H-T T-O D-V-D F-R-A-N-C-H-I-S-E!” ??
Since the 2000 release of Peyton Reed’s original, “Bring It On” sequels have come flying fast and furious, beginning with 2004’s “Bring It On Again” and continuing with “Bring It On: “All or Nothing” (2006), “Bring It On: In It to Win It” (2007), and “Bring It On: Fight to the Finish.” The latest entry, released in 2009, was set and shot in Malibu.
Directed by music-video world graduate Bille Woodruff, the man behind the Jessica Alba hit “Honey” and its 2011 straight-to-DVD sequel, “BIO: Fight to the Finish” starred “Dip It Low” singer Christina Milian as Catalina, an East L.A. teen relocated to the fictitious Malibu Vista High, where she must contend with her arch-rival for the cheerleading top spot, snotty richie rival Avery, played by Rachele Brooke Smith, even as ‘Lina falls for Avery’s sensitive brother, Evan.
Smith, a vivacious 24 year old, told Malibu Times how Avery’s family home and the movie’s beach scenes were all shot around Zuma Beach.
“I absolutely loved working with Bille,” said Smith, who still sees co-stars Vanessa Born, Nikki SooHoo and Gabrielle Dennis. “We all hang out. I’m still very close to most of the cast.”
At 14, Smith suffered a gymnastics accident which required six pins in her wrist. A blessing from the unfortunate injury: she doubled down on her dedication to dance and singing. Those skills, showcased in her role on “Turn It Up,” caught the eye of Woodruff.
“He actually fought to get me the role. Avery would have been a blonde,” said Smith, who auditioned four times before securing the role.
SooHoo, an accomplished actress and dancer who attended Orange County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana, arguably possesses the most impressive filmography credit as Holly in Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones.” Coincidentally, she worked on “Stick It,” directorial debut of original “Bring It On” screenwriter Jessica Bendinger, in which she starred as a gymnast opposite Jeff Bridges.
“That was my first feature film,” SooHoo said. “I really thank her for the opportunity,” in which SooHoo trained six hours a day for three months, five days a week to approximate a gymnast.
Making these films, “I gained a respect for gymnasts and cheerleaders,” SooHoo said, admitting she was once suspect regarding whether or not these were legitimate sports. The hardest part of her cheerleading training was gaining that trust “that  your teammates were not going to drop you. It really is teamwork.”
Likewise, on the set of “Fight.”
“Bille  knows exactly what he’s doing,” she said. “He’s cutting in the camera. He hired us because he knew we’d know what to do. He expects us to know it and he let’s us do it. As an actor, you make the choices. You make the character your own.”
The female stars of “Fight” bonded during a boot camp, set up by the producers for several weeks from 9 to 5, to rehearse cheerleader choreography.
Smith reports that her scenes at the Avery House took two days to shoot. There were also beach scenes shot at Zuma Beach. The interior gymnasium parts were shot at Cal State Northridge while East L.A. scenes were lensed at Boyle Heights’ Roosevelt High.
Born and SooHoo, who play teen cheerleaders Gloria and Christina respectively, confirm Smith’s report of a very fun shoot. “Billy is one of my favorite directors,” Born said. “He let’s you be you.”
Born was an instigator of on-set practical jokes (some included on the closing credits coda). For instance, on co-star Holland Roden’s birthday, Born ordered myriad small cans of Silly String from Santa Cruz and made sure everyone on set had a can to zap Roder with.
As opposed to her experience on the set of “Lovely Bones,” during which A-list director Jackson received the luxury of time and money to perfect his film, SooHoo observed how Universal had a “tighter schedule” emphasizing to “finish it on time. We only had one or two takes on each scene.”
Originally from Sacramento, where she danced for the Kings NBA team, Born was already familiar with Point Dume, where she had found a rock divot perch she liked to go to and ponder.
“It’s my thinking chair,” said Born, who goes there to meditate to this day. “That is the place where my dreams come true.”
SooHoo, too, had a prior Malibu connection. Back in her Orange County junior high, different classes paired up with universities, which the respective classes visited.
“My class was Pepperdine,” she said. “The first time I visited Malibu, I fell in love with it.”
“Bring It On,” SooHoo added, was “one of my favorite movies. I love being a part of that whole family.”
Fresh off of a Cappadocia, Turkey, vacation, screenwriter Elena Song told the Times her original “Fight to the Finish” script had “a little more about teamwork, more female empowerment stuff.”
Song, who polished up Alyson Fouse’s screenplay on the fourth installment, took lead on writing “Fight,” which Fouse shares a co-credit on. Energized by character-driven creators such as the Coen Brothers and Charlie Kaufman, Song drew heavy inspiration from Audrey Wells (“The Truth About Cats and Dogs”). On the strength of her screenplay “After Mindy Flipped Out,” what Song describes as “a ‘Spinal Tap’-style mockumentary on figure skating; basically what if Tanya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were sisters,” Song was hired as a writer on the last two BIO sequels. In Hollywood, “Mindy” had landed on the respected Black List and won top prize in the now-defunct Diane Thomas screenwriting contest, gaining her screenwriter Sasha Gervse (“The Terminal”) as a mentor. Song also did some uncredited work on “Shrek the Third” and wrote a never-produced “Wizard of Oz” spin-off called “To Oz” (a yarn about Dorothy’s grandchildren carrying on the Oz-visiting legacy).

Screenwriter Elena Song, with Alyson Fouse, co-wrote the screenplays of the fourth and fifth "Bring It On" movies "In It to Win It" (2007) and "Fight to the Finish" (2009).

Previous to screenwriting, Song had spent a decade in sales and marketing for HBO. The screenwriter, who studied film studies and communication at American and Stanford Universities, traveled as an affiliate operators sales marketing agent to such territories as Phoenix, Las Vegas, Guam, Santa Barbara and Hawaii: “You’d have to go to each island and convince them to have HBO there. I bought a lot of donuts. I had my day job and I’d work on my writing at night. I told myself, ‘I’ll give it a year to try to kick off screenwriting. I was very naive but I’m glad I was married because I wouldn’t of done it without the support from her husband,” Paul Mandelbaum, a teacher at Emerson University’s Burbank annex and the novelist behind author of books such as “Adrian on the Edge” and “Garrett in Wedlock.”
Song was tasked on her BIO screenplays to “give it that ‘Bring It On 3’ flavor.” (“All or Nothing” was considered a series high by Universal.) As research, she watched all three predecessors (even though each were self-contained, unconnected stories with different characters) and read all the scripts.
“I pretty much did a page-one rewrite on Alyson’s script” with “Fight.” I wrote the first draft  on #5 ,then they brought me in. Alyson wrote #3, which was considered the holy grail of the sequels.” Song pointed out that where she excels is in structure while Alyson supplied much of the colorful dialogue. “She has that trash talk down,” Song said.
After “Fight” was finished, Song ran into Bille Woodruff at the premiere, held at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, where Woodruff apologized for discarding parts of her script. Smith recalls improvising on the shooting script but nothing above normal. “With every script, there’s room to adding your uniqueness,” she said. Despite a de rigeur different outcome from script to screen, Song appears satisfied with the finished product. “There’s some really good cheerleading sequences,” she said.
Smith, who also plays a bitchy character in next month’s “Pop Star,” admits she fears getting typecast with spoiled diva roles. “I loved playing those types, even though I’m very opposite those characters,” she said. “I love dancing. I will dance till I’m 90. But I don’t want to get pigeonholed as the dancer who acts.” (Smith also appeared in the Andre 3000 video “Green Light” and as an “Ironette” in “Iron Man 2”.)
While one might view Avery as a Malibu caricature of a snotty, even racist entitled girl, the movie’s complexities come from Evan’s philosophical differences with his sister’s spoiled mentality. Song, herself of half-Dutch Jewish/half-Korean heritage raised in WASPy Trumbull, Connecticut, tried hard to imbue her fish-out-of-water screenplay with solid character depth, tapping into some feelings minority teens go through when they arrive at a new school. Part of the band geek crowd, Song played trumpet and French horn back at Trumbull High. However, her younger sister, Miran, was Miss Popularity: a cheerleader! So Song had a window into that world to tap into in her “Fight” script.
Smith feels grateful to have co-starred in the sequel to “one of my favorite movies which inspired me as a child. It’s very surreal.” She believes the subtext of determination and pursuing one’s dreams despite obstacles is one she and other young actresses can relate to. The girls of BIO5 occasionally get recognized for their work in “Fight.” Once, while at a Burbank mall, a male cashier “began screaming ‘Oh, my God! It’s Gloria!’” Born said. “He was in a panic.’Oh, my God! I  loved your movie.’ It took me by surprise.”

Co-stars of "Bring It On: Fight to the Finish" (and real-life besties!): Nikki SooHoo, Vanessa Born, Rachele Brooke Smith.
On Aug. 23, Born made her stand-up comedy debut at the Comedy Store on Sunset. She is also co-producing “The Runner” with Smith, both of whom, with SooHoo, have roles in their independent drama. Smith played a desperate, pregnant girl in the drama “Matter of Time” while SooHoo has the upcoming thriller “Crush,” as well as the straight-to-DVD “Music High” and its already planned sequel, “Fearless.”
The takeaway from acting in BIO5, for Born and SooHoo, was “how hard-working all those cheerleaders were on the set,” as the former put it. All three actresses commend the movie’s subtext as inspirational. “They inspire a lot of girls and show them what’s possible,” Born said.
Such messages of female empowerment emanate from the “Bring It On” creator herself. As a screenwriter, Song said she was happy to hear reports of Bendinger’s July legal triumph in a lawsuit against the producers of the “Bring It On” musical. Suing them for borrowing too heavily from her movie’s storyline, Bendinger won a prominent, above-the-title credit on all P&A for the musical as its source writer. Likewise, SooHoo, who has worked with Bendinger, expressed her elation for her first director’s victory. “I always felt mixed feelings doing ‘Bring It On 5’ that she wasn’t affiliated with it,” she admitted. “She totally deserves it. She created a staple to that whole cheerleading world.”
To these up-and-coming actresses, “BIO 5” has become the most significant movie in the series because it was the one on which they all met.
“The best part I took away from the film was my best friends,” SooHoo said. “Staying friends after a movie wraps can be the hardest part. I think it was destiny, we were meant to be friends. We were all the same age and that’s how we met.”
She loves her “BIO5” clique as these young actresses continue to pursue their career goals, two of them even living in Santa Monica.
“We motivate each other, inspire each other and love each other,” SooHoo continued.
“We’ll run into each other on auditions actually,” Born said. “We’re like a mini-family. It’s like a reunion every time.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

21 JUMP STREET misses mark

The "21 Jump Street" movie was disappointing, more so cuz hilarious Jonah Hill also co-wrote it (unless 200 references to men "sucking dick" floats your boat comedy-wise). Channum Tatum Whatever Namemum is nothing special as the "Other Guys
" Mark Wahlberg. Johnny Depp cameo is a dud.

One funny line is the ironic statement the police chief makes about reviving '80s idea because of lack of imagination. blah blah blah. Very self-deprecating! Ice Cube is fucking FAT (not phat) in this movie! Wowers.

This movie supports my theory that fat Jonah Hill ("The Sitter") is funnier than skinny Jonah Hill ("Moneyballzzzzzz").

Couldn't Jonah Hill afford to hire himself for one more rewrite? Because the numerous fat jokes do not really work if you're, like, um....not fat?

"The Muppets," "The Smurfs," "The Three Stooges"

I'm going to freely express my thoughts on "The Smurfs," "The Three Stooges," and "The Muppets" because if I don't, the terrorists win...and that's not happening on my watch!

Which in this three-way wins as Best Family-Friendly Film? Read on and see....

Weird coincidental thread between all three: Sofia Vergara and AC/DC's "Back in Black" -- Two out of three of these films feature Sofia Vergara as the villain (essentially her same bitchy character) and the one movie that doesn't ("Muppets") features the kid who plays her son Manny on "Modern Family." So Sofia Vergara is well repped here. Her agent must be on drugs for pushing her to do these family flicks.

It's totally charming and quaint that a group once associated for Satanism and evil now routinely has their music in family-friendly crowd pleasers ("Smurfs," "Muppets," and don't forget "Shoot to Thrill" in "Iron Man 2"). I love the song "Back in Black" so I'm not going to complain, although "The Smurfs" did a good job of mangling it!

"Smurfs" is not the disaster critics made it out to be. If you can stomach the "Alvin & the Chipmunks" movies, this is very solid among those. Neil Patrick Harris is always fun, Hank Azaria is good as Gargamel, and Azriel is crazy. I was never much of a Smurfs fan but this lost in New York tale hits all the Smurfs sweet spot. The Scottish Smurf is out of nowhere though and do we really need that guy? (Kilty Smurf? Plaid Skirt Smurf? I don't remember his name.) Wolf Blitzer resembles Papa Smurf more than ever (except for the wise words part). That old dishrag Joan Rivers pops up in a cameo. "Smurfs" gets bonus points for throwing on Run-DMC's "Walk This Way" on the soundtrack and making an entire scene out of it! Yes, siirrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

"Three Stooges" was actually my least favorite of the three but still kinda fun. Although the impersonations were actually good enough, this movie had nowhere to go with the hack "save the orphanage" plot. It was enjoyable on some level but not as funny as it shoulda been. And definitely didn't seem very Farrelly in humor. I recently saw "Heartbreak Kid" with Ben Stiller and Danny McBride and that was better. But you can see the love and I liked that it was broken up into episodes. I hope the sequel does better.

"The Muppets" had a hack "save the theater" plot but it worked better here. I had heard very mixed reviews of this film, but I was pleasantly surprised by how charming and really funny in places this movie is..and how much it captures the Jim Henson vibe. I loved the montage and this movie had the BEST cover of Cee-Lo Green's "F You" song ever -- very clever and funny how they got away with that one. The musical numbers are fun. It's a very self-aware film but where it would be annoying in another film, it totally works here because the gags are very funny. Jason Segel is great in it and the screenplay he co-wrote oozes with wry humor and reverence for the original films. I think he nailed the right tone and the humor, and I would place this up there with "The Muppet Movie" and "Muppets Take Manhattan" so congratulations! I hope they make a sequel!

The winner: "The Muppets" movie by a long shot!

Second place: "The Smurfs"

Runner up: "The Three Stooges"

The loser: The terrorists.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JK! Woulda been 95 today!

JACK KIRBY was hands-down the most prolific, imaginative and influential comic book creator of all time. He was the visual architect of many genres, many universes, including Marvel Comics Group in the Silver Age.

He continues to be missed and unequaled in the industry.

I feel blessed that I met him and his wife Roz at my very first San Diego Comic-Con when I was 23. I had just come out with my first published comic, a one-man humor anthology called BOUND & GAGGED on the Iconografix label (Caliber Press) and I had a copy signed up for him (as if he cared). I also ported my copy of MARVEL DOUBLE FEATURE #11, the first comic I ever got as a child in Canarsie when my grandparents bought it for me off the spinner rack at Irv's Pizza. It had a Lee/Kirby Captain America as a lead story.

Also coincidence: I'm going back into my native Canarsie, Brooklyn, today of all days, on the mighty King Kirby's big day....I'll have to see if Irv's Pizza even exists...or what's in it's place. It should be emotional seeing the place where I grew up and where my grandparents lived, and the corners where I bought Marvel Comics when I was 6-9 years of age.

Would love to be posting a few examples of his work right now but I'm not on my home laptop. In fact, I'm coincidentally in NYC, visiting the various parts of town where one Jacob Kurtzberg grew up to become the spirited, unparalleled creator whose characters everyone knows and loves worldwide to this day. The biggest tribute to Jack, I'm guessing, is that I chose to become a cartoonist and follow in his path (and I say that loosely, as I'll never be the cartoonist he was or even close...he was just too monumental....I'm a mere mortal and this guy was a god.)

Jack Kirby is just too big in the field to warrant explanation. If you love comics, you know Jack.

Happy birthday to a mighty giant!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Unedited Sister of Farrelly Bros. Story

My original version of this M-T story:

Just read on FB that a sequel to the "Stooges" movie is in the works, so I guess it's technically a successful movie.




hed -- There’s something about the Gesners
sub- For years, Malibu native and ‘Sinbad’ actor Zen Gesner and wife Cindy Farrelly Gesner have enjoyed the joys of being Farrelly Brothers-adjacent.

by Michael Aushenker

By sheer happenstance, actor/producer Zen Gesner and wife Cindy Farrelly Gesner found themselves talking to the press last Sunday. Not the usual way to spend one’s 17th wedding anniversary. Then again, this Malibu pair is no ordinary couple.
Gesner, who portrayed the titular character in “The Adventures of Sinbad” in the late ‘90s, is married to the youngest sister of outrageous comedy kings Peter and Bob Farrelly, whose often controversial broad comedies, including “Dumb & Dumber” (starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels), the cult favorite “Kingpin,” and signature blockbuster “There’s Something About Mary,” dominated American comedy throughout the ‘90s. Farrelly Gesner, an entertainment attorney at the Beverly Hills firm Lichter Grossman Nichols Adler, has long represented her brothers. Being related to the Farrelly Bros., both routinely get bit parts in the brothers’ movies, including “The Three Stooges,” an homage to and revival of the iconic slapstick trio, which is currently topping the DVD and Blu Ray charts. Gesner also filmed a handful of five-minute behind-the-scenes featurettes appearing in the bonus features.
Released July 17, the “Stooges” DVD includes co-stars Sofia Vergara (“Modern Family”), “Glee”’s Jane Lynch, and Larry David (as “Sister Mary Mengele”) on Gesner’s featurettes, alongside stars Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe), Sean Hayes (Larry) and Will Sasso (Curly).  
Gesner and Moran created the shorts (narrated by the brothers) with a skeleton crew, capturing the behind-the-scenes craft and chaos.
The son of Modernist architect/inventor Harry Gesner and late actress Nan Martin (“The Drew Carey Show”), Gesner grew up in Nicholas Beach. (For more on Harry Gesner’s incredible back story, read “Living by Design, Not by Accident” by Michael Aushenker in the archives.) Gesner followed his mother’s footsteps into acting. After moving around from Santa Monica to Capetown, South Africa (for “Sinbad”) to Manhattan (for a Gesner’s year-long stint as evil twin/rapist Ryan Lavery on “All My Children”). In 1999, the Gesner family settled on the Mali-Pali Sunset Mesa border. Gesner, a third-generation surfer, has passed on that torch to his sons, Finn, 15, Rory, 11, and Tuck, 9.
As a producer, Gesner made “Bag Boy,” a movie starring Dennis Farina, Larry Miller and Brooke Shields. He is currently working with Good Surf Productions co-founder Rob Moran to get a one-hour episodic medical drama on the air. (In the Farrelly Bros.’ “Stuck On You,” starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear, the partners appear on a mock Variety cover under the headline “Gesner and Moran Land Major Deal at Fox.”) Gesner is also designing eco-friendly surfboards with carpenter Ben Stoddard. (The boards appear in an upcoming Men’s Journal photo shoot featuring actor Gerard Butler, promoting his surfing film “Chasing Mavericks.”)
“One of my best friends is a teacher at Malibu High School,” said Gesner, whose middle child studies saxophone with two of his former teachers, Steven Ravaglioli and Bonnie Lockrem Rory.
Cindy’s older sisters live in Massachusetts. Beth works in market research for Ocean Spray. Kathy of Duxbury, MA, works on “Chronicle,” a regional “60 Minutes”-type program. Peter lives in Ojai and summers in Martha’s Vineyard while Bob lives in Beverly Hills. The Farrellys’ parents have retired to Cape Cod.
The Farrelly Bros. and their three sisters (of which Cindy is the youngest) grew up in Cumberland, Rhode Island, and summered in Cape Cod; the offspring of a general doctor/obstetrician and a nurse. New England figures prominently in most Farrelly Bros. movies. Peter shared stories related to their upbringing in the 1988 novel “Outside Providence,” which became a 1999 film years later produced and co-written by the Farrellys.
The Gesners get sheepish when asked how they met...line-dancing at the now-defunct Santa Monica country-Western bar Denim and Diamonds. (They swear they don’t even listen to country.)
Gesner spent two years living in Capetown, South Africa, filming 44 episodes of “The Adventures of Sinbad.” As the iconic sailor, Gesner did his own stunts (swordplay, trampolines, flips).
“It was just a chance to showcase a lot of the skills I’ve been practicing my whole life,” said Gesner, who got to meet Sinbad predecessor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Post-”Sinbad,” Gesner did a “Friends” episode and relocated his family to Manhattan in 1998, when he worked on “All My Children” as Grayden Lavery, evil-twin rapist brother of character Ryan Lavery.
“That gave us a great year in New York City,” he said.
The family occupied a Upper West Side apartment, behind Lincoln Center, vacated by “All My Children” colleagues Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuela. Recently, Gesner appeared on his first reality series, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced “Take the Money and Run.”
Gesner has enjoyed bit roles in a roster of Farrelly Bros. flicks, beginning with an FBI agent in their 1995 debut, “Dumb & Dumber.”
“It’s such a warm and friendly set,” Gesner said. “They’re like the Coen Brothers. Once they start working with a group of actors, they like bringing them in along for the ride” in subsequent productions.
For “Kingpin,” the 1996 bowling comedy starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid and Bill Murray, Gesner fervently studied Amish dialect only to arrive on the set and find he was the only one in the movie employing the German accent. Gesner also played a bartender in “Something About Mary” (“Cough it up, chompers!”) and a shot FBI agent in 2000’s “Me, Myself and Irene.”
“‘Shallow Hal’ was one of my personal favorites,” he confesses of the 2001 comedy in which he played Gwyneth Paltrow’s boyfriend. “It was a fun role to play––goofy character, goofy voice.” He played Katherine Heigl’s jerk fiance in “The Ringer” and Ione Skye’s trains-obsessed hubby in “Fever Pitch.” Despite being family, Gesner auditions for these roles.
“Anyone who comes to a set finds themselves in the movie,” Farrelly Gesner said of her brothers’ fraternal shooting protocol. “In ‘Three Stooges,’ I was a nun. My kids were in the orphanage. Brian Doyle Murray fell on a group of nuns, lying on top of me and my sister Beth.” A trying scene, shot in 105-degree Atlanta heat.
A Farrelly Bros. set is collegial, friendly: drinking games such as Quarters in-between takes; group outings to restaurants and bars after shooting.
“On set, the crew refers to ‘FOP’ or ‘FOB’ –– friend of Pete’s or Friend of Bobby’s,” said Farrelly Gesner, who added that while Bill Murray is “very funny,” Bob and Peter were not as loose around the “Moonrise Kingdom” star as with other actors. “My brothers just revere him!”
Growing up Farrelly meant growing up laughing.
“They were very, very funny, no question,” Farrelly Gesner said. “We had a lot of laughs. They weren’t particularly driven or focused and they didn’t do that well in school. I don’t think anyone would have thought they would amount to anything.”
The Farrelly Bros. exited college pursuing “random business fields,” as their sister puts it. Peter, an accounting major, worked for a shipping company, while Bobby entered into insurance. “Pete wasn’t happy so he turned to writing ‘Outside Providence,’” Farrelly Gesner said. He went from University of Massachusetts in Amherst to the writing program at Columbia University.”
While Peter found early success selling screenplays, they remained unproduced for a solid decade. That included the first comedy script he wrote in the mid-‘80s, “Dust to Dust.” However, a neighbor of Eddie Murphy passed it along to the superstar comedian, who laughed his ass off.
“Eddie Murphy told the story on ‘Letterman,’” Farrelly Gesner said. “He was on a flight when he read it and he laughed the whole way to California.”
Peter brought in writing partner Bennett Yellen and then convinced his brother to come out to L.A., where Peter lived in a West Hollywood apartment on Doheny.
“He told Bobby, ‘Come out and write with me,’” Farrelly Gesner recalled. “They work so well together. Bobby is hysterically funny. It’s a different style then Pete’s. Bobby is a little more slapstick.”
“It took them many, many years,” she continued, “and it didn’t begin until ‘Dumb and Dumber.’ That really did change their lives.”
Meanwhile, their kid sister had embarked on a parallel pursuit of entertainment law. Finding herself feeling stuck as a litigator, things changed as “Dumb & Dumber” approached release: “One day, Peter called and said, ‘Cindy, just start being our lawyer. We got this guy in CAA.”
That “guy” was uber-agent Richard Lovett, whom, with Adam Kanter, still reps the Farrellys today.
But their next project, “Kingpin,” bombed. Luckily, the Farrellys rebounded quickly and formidably with the 1998 Ben Stiller/Cameron Diaz comedy which slapped critics in the face with a certain infamous hair-gel gag that permeated the pop culture. Grossing $369 million globally, “Something About Mary” ranks 27th on American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 funniest films of the 20th century.
The Farrelly Bros. are currently working on setting up “Dumber & Dumber Too,” which hit a well-publicized snag when Carrey wanted out. The filmmakers remain optimistic a sequel to the film launching their careers will materialize.
The Farrellys have become immune to criticism.
“Even if they had a movie that did well at the box office,” their sister explained, “the critics were so scathing of their work.” Some found gags about the handicapped, in movies such as “The Ringer,” a Special Olympics-themed comedy, tasteless.
“My brothers have the biggest hearts ever,” she continued. “They weren’t making fun of them.”
The boys were heartened when three important media outlets––Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today––loved “Three Stooges.”
While the comedy may be over-the-top, its success was not. The $36-million-budget comedy has grossed only $44-million domestically. However, despite its national home-video release, the 2012 film has just began opening in foreign markets such as Australia and New Zealand. Most importantly, “they were really happy with the way it turned out,” she said.
Long a Farrelly Bros. passion project, “Stooges” was not a slam dunk in Hollywood’s eyes. As well documented by the entertainment press, Benicio del Toro was originally earmarked to play Moe with Sean Penn as Larry. However, Penn’s personal problems prompted him to back out of the project, forcing a casting overhaul.
“We worked on getting that movie made for 13 years,” Farrelly Gesner said. “Everybody was so gun shy about green-lighting it. Fans of the Stooges were angry it was getting remade. My brothers don’t make choices based on commercialism. They love the Stooges. They love their comedy and they felt the Stooges’ legend was falling away from people and they wanted to reach the kids.
“They wanted to show how they influenced comedy. They left such an indelible mark on comedy.”
Cinemaphiles, no doubt, will one day say the same about her brothers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

I was lucky enough to have met Ray Bradbury on two occasions - one when our CAPS (Comic Art Professional Society) group honored him in the Valley at one of our annual banquets, and then covering a visit to Seven Arrows in Pacific Palisades for this article. He was a genius with a fertile imagination and such a gifted storyteller. He was proud of his French Medal of Honor. What a loss.

Ray Bradbury, just days before Valentine's Day 2008, gave an amazing lecture to the students at Seven Arrows Elementary, never talking down to them or even sanitizing his stories. He told stories from his childhood and great anecdotes about his salad days. The children loved him.

Monday, June 4, 2012

One Month Ago Today....Remembering Adam Yauch A.K.A. MCA of Beastie Boys

It's been exactly a month since word broke that Adam Yauch of Beastie Boys had lost his battle with the Big C at age 47. Yauch started off as a wild and crazy rap star and, in the end, became a Tibetan activist and a distributor of Academy Award-nominated films and documentaries (not to mention a family man). 

Anyway, to mark the 1-month anniversary of his death, I thought I'd run the original longer, more personal and anecdote-filled version of the article published in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles a few weeks back. That tribute was the article that brought me back into the Journal's fold about nine years after I left my position there as a staff writer (1997-2003).

MCA, circa 1986, "Fight for Your Right (to Party)" video.

Beastie Boys, circa 1986.

Cover art of their debut album, LICENSED TO ILL, a twist on the "Led Zeppelin IV" cover art. Note the little backwards "Eat Me" message on the fuselage of the plane.

Requiem for a Beastie: Remembering Adam “MCA” Yauch

by Michael Aushenker

So how was your Cinco de Mayo? Yeah, well, mine kinda sucked, thanks.
Blame the morning of May 4th. “Avengers” fever was in the air on this beautiful San Francisco day as I prepared for the weekend’s Latino Comics Expo, an annual convention at the Cartoon Art Museum, where I was invited up to sign copies of my “El Gato, Crime Mangler” comics (about a dimwitted, banana-phobic luchador).
That’s when I got this text from an amigo in San Diego: “I’m so depressed right now. I know u know Ad Rock passed away, right?”
I was stunned. I mean like, WTF?! Adam “King Ad-Rock” Horovitz (the wise-ass with the nasal flow) was always my favorite Beastie Boy, followed closely by Adam “MCA” Yauch (the husky voice), and Michael “Mike D” Diamond (the shrill one).
You have to remember that, in the mid-1980s, to awkward teenage boys like myself, Beastie Boys, the first all-white (and Jewish!) rap group was huge. When I bought “Licensed to Ill,” their 1986 major-label album debut, I was a Fairfax High School student missing my native Canarsie, and the Beasties wore their New Yawker attitude on their snotty, beer-stained sleeves, dropping East Coast references to delicatessens and White Castle. Brash, obnoxious and irreverent, yet stupid-dumb clever in the Three Stooges/Cheech & Chong tradition, the Beastie Boys were liberating. I looked up to these teens, a scant few years older than me. Like the best rock, they represented sex, booze, drugs, mayhem, anarchy, and all the other things I couldn’t indulge in myself. “Licensed” was like why Jews dig “Inglourious Basterds”; a visceral, vicarious fantasy.  
Seconds after reading that text message, I realized my friend had probably gotten it wrong. After all, it was Yauch, not Horovitz, whose well-publicized battle with cancer had delayed the release of their last album, “Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two,” by two years. Beastie Boys dropped out last minute from performing at Jersey City’s All Points West festival in 2009, and Jay-Z filled in, opening with his cover of “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” (Even Chris Martin of Coldplay, tickling the ivories, sang an oxymoronic, sensitive rendition of their infamous signature single, “Fight For Your Right [to Party].”) And yet, it was announced upon “Hot Sauce”’s May 2011 release that Yauch had beat the cancerous parotid gland and lymph node he had contracted.
In today’s postmodern ADD world, where “Fight for Your Right” can become elevator music worthy of your local Ralphs (YouTube Martin’s version if you don’t believe me...), many have forgotten how truly notorious the Beasties were “back in the day.” Originally formed at Yauch’s 17th birthday party, Beastie Boys caught the ear of producer Rick Rubin, who, with Russell Simmons (brother of Joseph “Run” Simmons of Run-DMC), formed Def Jam Records out of Rubin’s NYU dorm room. They started out as a punk rock band until scoring with underground novelty singles such as “Cookie Puss” (Yauch’s prank call to a Carvel Ice Cream store set to a shuffling groove).
Then svengali Rubin put some metal polish on their style while producing their abrasive 1986 debut “Licensed to Ill,” and, for two years, all hell broke loose across the U.S.A. The Beastie Boys blew up. For one hot minute, during those uptight Cold War Reagan years, they were the American Sex Pistols; anarchists guised as glorified frat boys, sliding on spilt Budweiser across stages worldwide adorned with strippers in cages and (until it was banned) a monumental phallus. All kinds of notoriety made headlines, some true, much of it fabricated or exaggerated: The Beasties were booed off stage while opening for Madonna, had supposedly mocked a group of disabled kids, and hit a woman in the face after winging a beer bottle into a crowd. Worst of all, Horovitz began dating America’s sweetheart, Molly Ringwald! (That was real...) “Licensed to Ill” (discarded working title: “Don’t Be a Faggot”) had so many controversial, outrageous, over-the-top songs (two penned by Run-DMC, including the raunchy Wild West-themed “Paul Revere”) intertwining sex, violence, and drug/alcohol abuse that, when the Beasties evolved from hipster icons into socially conscious activists throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s, they spent the rest of their career apologizing for that anthemic album and refusing to perform their biggest “Licensed” hits in concert (as if its goofball, cartoony humor was lost on even them).
With “Licensed,” the Beastie Boys achieved what no rappers, not even genre pioneers Run-DMC could: top Billboard’s album charts. “Licensed” sold a massive 4 million records (and, since its heyday, the perennial classic, has gone, um, diamond).
Accompanying that success, a dispute with Def Jam over royalties sent them West to Capitol Records, where they recorded 1989’s “Paul’s Boutique,” a masterpiece so dense with samples (created before artists had to pay for song rights) that it would be impossibly, prohibitively costly to create such a record today. “Paul’s” was not exactly “Licensed” Part II” either, swapping out crunchy white-boy Led Zep and Black Sabbath riffs for black funk grooves and disco loops. Darker and grittier than its happy-go-lucky predecessor, “Paul’s” bombed hard, barely approaching gold. Yet within a few short years, this rambling, transmuting urban odyssey not only became regarded as a masterpiece for the Beasties, but for hip hop at large. It was a gigantic sonic leap from “Licensed,” a more compact, relatively minimalist adrenaline rush of teenage rebellion.
As they grew up from Boys to men, the trio became musically restless and confident enough to go out of character for a few tracks (sometimes for entire albums) and eschew their comfort-food tag-team style for their punk roots or lounge-y funk/jazz/rock tendencies. Personality-wise, they became reformed Beasties, more serious––even preachy––and Yauch led the charge, trading his Judaism (mother’s side) for Buddhism after marrying Dechen Wagnu and forming the Milarepa Fund, a 501(3)(C) supporting the Tibetan independence movement. Yauch also formed, with THINKFilm executive David Fenkel, the successful indie distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories, which released, among other movies, the Michelle Williams showcase “Wendy & Lucy,” and Oscar-nominated films “The Messenger” and Banksy documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”
So upon learning of Yauch’s death, the memories and anecdotes started flooding out of me. Back in 1987, my best friend Rich and I already had tickets to see the Run-DMC/Beastie Boys “Together Forever Tour” at the Greek Theatre, where, in a cosmic coincidence, our Fairfax High graduation ceremony was being held just one week prior. It didn’t matter that Jennifer Zivolich, the unattainable cheerleader I had been lusting over in silent desperation, had, by some failure in alphabetical seating, been placed next to me during graduation rehearsals and rejected me after I slipped her a love letter. Rich and I had memorized our seat numbers and we were already salivating over our front tier seats. “Screw graduation! One week from tonight, we’re going to see the Beastie Boys!”
Needless to say, the concert lived up to its promised infamy. A year later, when I returned to the Greek for a Run-DMC concert (also featuring Public Enemy and EPMD in their prime), the headliners interrupted the show to welcome some surprise guests. The crowd went bananas as Yauch and company emerged to perform several songs, including one unrecognizable one with memorable lyrics about burgers and chicken and nose-picking which the Dust Brothers later musically reworked as “Paul’s” hyperactive opener, “Shake Your Rump.”
What’s really weird, I realized last weekend, was how MCA, towards the end of “Paul’s,” performed a rare solo freestyle titled “A Year and a Day.” I guess back in ‘89, he called it, because on May 4, Yauch died exactly “a year and a day” after the release of “Hot Sauce,” their final album.
While in San Francisco, I heard there was an outpouring of celebrity grief hitting the Twittersphere in the wake of Yauch’s passing. Justin Timberlake was crushed, Jay-Z saddened, and Ben Stiller (such a diehard fan, he appeared in the crowd of a Beasties concert film) devastated. Even Simmons, dissed on “Paul’s,” praised Yauch’s legacy.
Thankfully, Yauch lived long enough to see his group inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame last month (although he couldn’t attend).
Yet by far, the best MCA tribute came from Yauch himself. As “Nathanial Hörnblowér,” Yauch had, for years, been directing Beastie videos such as “Intergalactic” and “Body Movin’.” Last year, for “Hot Sauce”’s lead single “Make Some Noise,” Yauch shot a 30-minute long-form video, “Fight for Your Right (to Party) Revisited,” that doubled as cheap sequel and spoof of their teen hit. The video begins with Seth Rogen as Mike D., Elijah Wood as Ad-Rock, and Danny McBride as MCA (impersonating circa-1986 Beasties in their B-Boy caricature garb) and ends in a face off with futureshock counterparts John C. Reilly, Will Ferrel and Jack Black, emerging out of a “Back to the Future” DeLorean to challenge them to a dance contest. The video may drag in spots, but it’s a testament to the Beasties’ enduring popularity that joining those feature-comedy superstars are a who’s who of hip actors and hipster icons, from Rainn Wilson, Rashida Jones and Mya Rudolph, to Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci and Kirsten Dunst, to Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny, Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, and so on.
Two moments have, in retrospect, become poignant: a cameo by a skateboarding 13-year-old Lorel Yauch, the tall, lanky daughter MCA left behind...and the video’s punchline ending; breaking up that dance battle, dressed as cops, are the real Beastie Boys. While Horovitz and Diamond figure prominently, there’s only a fleeting, distant shot of Yauch, looking gaunt, frail and aged in a prematurely white beard (hiding surgical scars?).
So is there a silver lining after Yauch’s passing? Not ostensibly. Because Beastie Boys, as a group, are done––they were irreplaceable and not interchangeable. (You can’t just hire a new bassist like Wilco or something.) On the plus side, since celebrities die in threes, at least Horovitz and Diamond didn’t follow. (The guy who played Goober Pyle and Maurice Sendak count, right?).
Perhaps Yauch’s legacy is that others will be inspired by his activism and his support of independent filmmakers in an age when movie studios do not. And while one can argue those last two albums are relatively “meh,” the Beastie Boys aged gracefully, staying creative and commercially successful into middle age. In rap years, the Beasties were AC/DC. What other ‘80s rap act can you name that has topped the charts and stayed relevant for 26 years? (Answer: none). Even LL Cool J and Queen Latifah have become actors to survive in the ever-changing entertainment world while PE hype man Flavor Flav resorted to making out with Brigitte Neilsen in a swimming pool for cable ratings.
Back to Cinco de Mayo...Following the Comics Expo, my cartoonist buddy Jose and I walked a dozen blocks through the streets of San Francisco at sunset to meet our peers at an after-party. The Mission was like a Bizarro World Mardi Gras mash-up of season two of “Eastbound and Down” and Brooklyn circa 1986; awash with drunken non-Mexican males (Asians, blacks, gringos) in giant sombreros and scandalously dressed women partying to a Beastie Boys soundtrack blasting out of the cars cruising up and down Mission Street. It gave me goose bumps to hear chunks of “Brass Monkey,” “The New Style,” and other “Licensed” cuts––chunks of my youth––coming from every direction. It was also kind of cool. No apologies necessary.  

Michael Aushenker writes for the Malibu Times and is a cartoonist who has contributed to Heavy Metal magazine and Gumby and Pokey comics. His latest comic book, “Bart Simpson” # 70, is now on sale internationally at newsstands and book shops everywhere. Visit

An awesome tribute by the Wiltern Theatre in Koreatown following Yauch's passing. Ironically, to my knowledge, the Beasties never played this venue. Still pretty cool.