BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Jul 15th, 2014 •

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There is an absence of zest in the cinema. Overblown big budgeted Hollywood blockbusters are little more than a reprieve from hot summer days. There are more choices of toilet paper in the drugstore than worthwhile movies in the Redbox outside the store. The 32x fast forward button is employed more often than not when the unbearable Indy flick is chosen for screening. Big budget to low budget, cinema as both art and entertainment is at a lull.

Then comes along a film such as WHO KILLED JOHNNY, which reassures us that crowd-funded low budget productions well worth viewing do actually exist.

Set in Los Angeles, two European expat hopefuls, Melanie and Max, suffer angst and the trepidatious trappings of the screenwriter as they wrestle with writers block and then peregrine through a creative brainstorm via substance-fueled consciousness to pen their low budget film script. And then Eureka! Some may frown upon a random find, such as a listless body, as inopportune, but in the film world it inspires and adds production value.

Director Yangzom Brauen and actor Gerold Wunstel wrote the script, so just how much of WHO KILLED JOHNNY is semi-autobiographical? After all, a rule in screenwriting is,Write what you know. In a living room reclining on couches dreaming of Oscar glory, Max and Melanie plow through the development of characters for their low budget film as we witness their thought process played out on screen. Wunstel’s resume and life reads as an adventure set around the globe. As well, Brauen’s roots extend from Europe to Tibet with an artistic background and globetrotting endeavors. It is with these real life experiences that the exploration of the wacky and far from mundane personalities of various potential film characters in Max and Melanie’s kindled world attempt uniqueness and verisimilitude.

Included in this cast of characters is Jambo the black guy with the coolest afro since Gene Wilder, and his blonde buxom bikini babe Gudrun lounging in the pool. Carlos Leal’s self-portrayal (Swiss actor and rapper of Sens Unik) also plays Marcel, and another guy who shows up doing bad impressions and reaffirms that everyone in L.A. is an actor.

In many languages, humor does not translate well. It does in WHO KILLED JOHHNY. Dialogue is in German with English scattered about. For whatever reason, America, a diverse and multi-cultural society, does not embrace subtitled foreign dialogue. Without the need to abide by the politically correct, off-color remarks are humorously delivered. Essentially, you have the comedic premise of: A black, a blonde, and an Asian are…

Upon Max’s initial meeting with Jambo, snide remarks are traded between “Mr. Africa” and the “warmed-up Chinese bun.” When Max opens the front door again, he finds the blonde Gudrun who sparks his desire. He then asks Melanie why Gudrun would choose to be with the likes of Jambo instead of him. Her response, “Have you ever seen a blonde who’s into slanted eyes?” As for social commentary, Jambo claims that he has no chance as a black man in America with the prospect of a police-embroiled situation. This opinion is justified by his European compatriots.

When the body of Johnny Depp is spotted as a roadside attraction, it is regarded with gravitas by some and with blithesome folly by others. Dead or alive, superstar status helps a no budget film acquire recognition.

Max and Melanie’s attempted low budget film production in WHO KILLED JOHNNY suffers the consequences of no pay trade for technical skills and lack of professionalism, amateur and professional acting non-compatibility, and a general mixture of combustive chemistry. Marcel delivers one of the greatest observational tirades, “No, I don’t think she understands. No! She has nothing here, everything is there. Sorry!”

A component of the mise en scene is the wardrobe. Low budget didn’t necessitate bring your own clothes. T-shirts were chosen by Brauen to match the scenes giving them a double meaning. The graphics and the text are a clever approach. Brauen knew that many would not notice the role of the apparel.


Self funding a film is somewhat comparable to scrounging up change looking in places where something may be found but most likely nothing of worth, lending only tarnish to gleaming hopeful intentions in an enthusiastically fueled effort, eventually transitioning into a trouncing deprecating hard-knocked lesson in humiliating futility. Without sugar from daddies or mamas, green-lights from creatively deficient suits, and tapped-out friends and family (get a real job already), the filmmaker is rife with dissatisfaction, destitution, despair, and delinquency. (Delinquency in terms of credit, bills, bank accounts etc.) This may read as overdramatized, so, befriend a struggling cinema auteur. Where does such a filmmaker go? To panhandle in Internet traffic by way of Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

In the case of WHO KILLED JOHNNY, European acting talents Melanie Winiger, Max Loong, Carlos Leal, Ernest Hausmann, and Jordan Carver shot the film in Los Angeles. Not everyone lives in America. A few agreed to work on the film for free or just about for eight days of accelerated feature film production. With Yangzom directing the production from her script and Alexa Ihrt lensing it, the shooting portion of the film project was not the issue. Post production was where the costs accumulated. Since the piggy bank was already broken to pieces, crowd-funding was the available option.

The progress of the Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 was dismal until, with just days left, a press appeal to Brauen’s Swiss audience resulted in last minute heroes to the rescue. The official listed Kickstarter total is $29,187 by 74 backers. Each category of $10,000+ and $7,500+ were promptly filled by backers for Yangzom’s endeavor. Although successful, raising money on such platforms is not easily achieved and not well received by all. Monty Pythoner/ American born film director Terry Gilliam snubs his nose at this “charity” approach toward fundraising. While the making of movies is serious, for every failure, there are ridiculous non-movie projects that have found success (eg. to count squirrels in a park, and another – to write a cloud message from a plane, “How do I Land?”)

Yangzom Brauen uses Twitter and Facebook to connect with her potential audience. WHO KILLED JOHNNY continues to become available on various distribution platforms. Recently, Google Play added the film to its list for rent or purchase. The film’s site, offers the film in PAL and NTSC.

Films have been made about the trials, triumphs, and mostly failures of filmmaking. I like WHO KILLED JOHNNY the best. Besides, not since WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S has anyone resurrected a lifeless body for a role (Jennifer Aniston does not count). Brauen’s independent film is true to the spirit of what independent filmmaking is supposed to be. And if an A-list actor is kind of sort of in your film, even better. What would Johnny Depp say?

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