A chat with Greg Nicotero, make-up and effects wizard of “The Walking Dead”

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With 124 make-up credits and 64 effects credits to his name so far, Greg Nicotero is one of the busiest and most respected make-up and effects professionals in Hollywood. Originally inspired to take up special effects after seeing “Jaws,” he broke into the business working for the legendary gore-effects maestro Tom Savini on zombie-master George Romero’s 1985 splatter opus, “Day of the Dead. ”

A few years later, Nicotero had decamped from Romero’s Pittsburgh’s to show-biz’s Los Angeles and formed the multi-award winning KNB Efx Group with friends Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger. Aside from his intimate involvement in such effects heavy films as “Sin City,” “Kill Bill,” “Minority Report,” “Serenity,” “Spiderman 3” and, yes, “Ray,” Nicotero has also branched out into directing, helming the second unit on Frank Darabont’s “The Mist” and making his own short subject, a funny and endearing homage to several generations of classic movie monsters, “United Monster Talent Agency.”

When I met with Nicotero and last Summer’s Comic-Con, however, it was to promote the already highly buzzed new AMC series, “The Walking Dead,” which reunites Nicotero with writer-director Darabont in an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s Eisner Award-winning comic book series. Premiering Halloween night, the show will be taking a more dramatic look at the cannibal zombie mythos originally created by George Romero in his 1968 “Night of the Living Dead,” combining slow-moving zombies with the kind of in-depth characterization and complex yarn-spinning that’s making the onetime “vast wasteland” of television into something more like the last refuge of classical storytelling.

There’s only one problem. I’m kind of scared to actually watch the thing. You see, much as I admire the craft of someone like Greg Nicotero, I’m not exactly the usual gorehound media-fan for whom the more, and more realistic, cinematic gore he can create, the better. There was no point in hiding it.

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Midweek movie news, the Lamont Cranston and Kent Allard memorial edition

Comic-Con’s been over for a week and a half and the geek news is flying.

* Mike Fleming is claiming a Finke “Toldja!” for the news that Disney and “Tron: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski are going ahead with a film version of the comic book, “Oblivion.” I’m not familiar with the book so, should I be more excited about this than I am? Of course, having recently rewatched the original “Tron” I’m even less excited about his other movie. I’m sorry, but it’s got to be one of the thinnest excuses for a piece of entertainment I’ve ever seen. A few interesting visuals aside, it’s easily one of the weakest efforts Disney has ever been associated with as far as I can see. It’s lingering appeal is a complete mystery to me.

* As rumors of the day go, I find this one even less believable than most. That idea is that Quentin Tarantino may be “attached” to what had previously been Sam Raimi’s new version of William Gibson’s influential pulp character, the Shadow — who became best known via a popular thirties radio show starring a very young Orson Welles.  I’m a fan of the character and of Tarantino, so I certainly wouldn’t mind this being true. It just feels significantly off from Mr. Tarantino’s many obsessions, though considering his delving into thirties and forties cinema for “Inglourious Basterds,” you never know.

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What am I going to miss next?

I missed yesterdays big geek news of the upcoming Guillermo del Toro doing his “one for me” project with a long delayed adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “From the Mountains of Madness” with a little help from James Cameron. Bummer, but we’ll survive that tragedy together.

And then Mike Fleming, and every fanboy on earth it appears, found that the Comic-Con trailer for “Thor” had magically appeared on line, Wikileaks style. Anyhow, just as I had prepared this post, the folks at Marvel who apparently have a control issue with their marketing plan much as the U.S. government would rather you didn’t know too much about civilian casualties or the like, pulled it. I mean like seconds ago — it was there and I was ready to go and then it was gone. If you didn’t see it elsewhere, it was all Shakespearian and stuff and had more than a touch of “King Lear” to it, which makes sense as it’s directed by Kenneth Branagh.

So, since I don’t have the Thor trailer, here’s not one but two trailers. The first, a bit of Branagh directing actual Shakespeare and the probably never to be rivaled best ever quasi-Lear in cinema history. Enjoy, as you taste my bitter fanboy tears.

You know, I love Shakespeare and all, but his stuff is so full of cliches. Well, you’ll see none of that from Kurosawa-san.

  

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Hurried and harried midweek movie news

I’m blogging tonight from the Gower Gulch Starbucks, right in the heart of deepest darkest Hollywood, and as I said in the post right below this, seriously pressed for time tonight. A bunch of work still to be done ,a studio screening, plus a bunch of other stuff that won’t interest you. Also, there’s a guy behind me conducting an impromptu revival service for an audience of none, which is a little distracting.

So, that Comic-Con thumb-sucker will just have to wait as I present only a few selected items of movie news to nourish your spirits.

* Speaking of Comic-Con, in terms of innovation, influence, and ability to tell a simple story very well, Will Eisner was pretty much the D.W. Griffith, John Ford, and Billy Wilder of comic books all rolled into one, but few people who aren’t serious comics fans even know his name. 2008’s despicable “The Spirit” most certainly did not help with his memory or in terms of encouraging a younger generation to check out his work. (I’m glad the movie did horribly because if kids had liked the hyperviolent and mean-spirited film, they would have had no time for the humanistic original.).

Now, via /Film’s Russ Fischer, we hear that an appropriately low budget/indie film version of Eisner’s groundbreaking non-genre comic, “A Contract with God,” is in the works. Among other points of interest, it was the book that caused Eisner to come up with the term “graphic novel” when he was led to believe the publisher wouldn’t want to be involved with a mere “comic book.” Ironically enough, it’s actually a collection of related short stories and the term “graphic novel” actually may predate the incident, so Fischer isn’t  wrong when he says it’s not the first graphic novel. I truly hope this turns out well and makes everyone forget that other movie. It was nice that this was announced at the awards named for Eisner, who died in 2005, at Comic-Con.

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* In the here-we-go-again file, it looks like Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is being delayed for the millionth time, says the Playlist. And check out that graphic making Gilliam look a bit like a certain Mr. Orson Welles, who also struggled for years to make his vision of Cervantes’ classic delusional non-knight-errant.

* Another Deadline story: Kudos to writer Phil Johnston and Zack Galifianakis for taking on the deadly scourge that is the “Reply All” button. The children must be warned.

* The Jack Sparrow comparison will come easily to many with news of Russell Brand’s possible swashbuckling debut, but any excuse for swordfighting comedies that might actually be good works for me. (Actually, the character as described reminds me more than a bit of George MacDonald Fraser’s “Royal Flash,” portrayed by a young Malcolm McDowell. Never read the book(s) or saw the movie, but since it was directed by the great Richard Lester, I really need to.)

  

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Post Comic-Con movie news

I’m still recuperating a bit from last weekend’s insanity at Comic-Con and a busy week looms ahead, but the recent film news is just a little too interesting to ignore/gloss over.

* Mike Fleming broke the news this afternoon that Daniel Craig has signed on the line which is dotted to play the male lead in the upcoming American film version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” In case you never set foot in your local Barnes and Noble outlet, that’s the first novel in so-called Millennium Trilogy of mystery thrillers by the late Swedish author/political activist Steig Larsson. The series is becoming a sort of adult/non-geek HarryPotter for the Trader Joe’s set and the first U.S. film of it has attracted the powerhouse twosome of writer Steve Zallian and director David Fincher.

Judging from having seen the solid, but not excessively over-awesome, Swedish film version of the novel (which I’m really going to have to try and read at some point), Craig is probably a much better choice than the earlier floated Brad Pitt for the part. 007 or not, it’s just easier to see Craig as a down on his luck journo. Also, as Fleming points out, this puts Craig in the unique position of having at least two and, if you count a potentially huge “Cowboys and Aliens,” possibly three franchises to keep busy and well-compensated. Craig is not only an extremely good actor, he’s apparently got some very good agents.

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