This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Black Christmas (1974)

"I don't think you should provoke somebody like that, Barb."
"Oh listen, this guy is minor league. In the city, I get two of those a day."
"Well maybe. But you know that town girl was raped a couple of weeks ago."
"Darling, you can't rape a townie."
-Clare Harrison and Barb Coard.

As this is the holiday season, the Agony Booth recently posted a review of the infamous slasher film Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). This film became instantly notorious upon its release because of its depiction of a Santa Claus-suit-wearing serial killer. The TV spots for the film (which, the review states, were aired during prime time when children are still watching TV) were pulled after just one week, and any cinema showing the film was picketed.
Upon seeing the film for myself years later, I was not surprised to find that it was just as dumb as the many other slasher films that came out during the 1980s. However, I must add that I did not feel that it damaged the image of the holiday season the way many parents said it did. Granted, having the TV spots air at a time when young children are watching TV was not a smart move, but the film itself, when all is said and done, is just dumb fluff and nothing more. If anything positive can be said about the film, it's that it's not as awful as Valentine (2001), which (and I know this is saying a lot) is my choice for the worst slasher film ever, but that's a story for another time.
But the idea of a scary film set during the holiday season can be good, as this gem from 1974 (first released in the U.S. under the title Silent Night, Evil Night) proved. Die hard horror fans know Black Christmas as the film which was the predecessor to Halloween (1978) and, yes, some of the camera angles and the way the film's killer stalks his victims are reminiscent of what we'd later see in that film. One can also see the influence of this film in Wes Craven's Scream (1996), even though the film itself, unlike other slashers, is never mentioned in that picture.
This story focuses on a group of college girls who are terrorized by an unknown stranger in their sorority house during the holidays.
One of them, Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey) is pregnant, but wants an abortion, which upsets her boyfriend Peter Smythe (Keir Dullea). But Jess and her sorority sisters must also contend with harassing phone calls. Her friend Barb Coard (Margot Kidder) basically scoffs at the unknown caller, prompting the presumed man to reply:
"I'm going to kill you!"
Soon, the sisters and their house mother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) begin falling victim to the caller until Jess is the last one standing. The film ends with her killing Peter, thinking he's the killer, but the ending ends with a haunting tone with the suggestion that the killer is still on the loose.
Unlike future slashers, the police here, led by Lt. Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon, who would play a similar role in 1984's classic slasher film A Nightmare on Elm Street) are actually presented as competent.
The killer's taunts over the phone are quite nerve-wracking, and the killings themselves are jolting without being overdone. The final scene of Jess sedated and resting alone in her darkened bedroom also puts the viewer on edge.
Not surprisingly, the film's following over the years led to a stupid, needlessly gory remake in 2006. Like Silent Night, Deadly Night, that film was picketed (it premiered on Christmas Day), but, like other unsuccessful remakes, it makes one appreciate the original more.
The original's director, Bob Clark (who produced the Christmas remake), would go on to even greater success with the sex comedy Porky's (1982) and the beloved, family-friendly comedy classic A Christmas Story (1983), both of which would become quite influential themselves, before his tragic death in a car crash in 2007.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Shakedown (1988)

"Happy is the fleeting hope of youth."
"Who said that?"
"Me. I'm gonna take the streets, Richie."
"Good for you, counselor. Me, too."
-Roland Dalton and Richie Marks.

If any film cliché could be called 'old before it was new,' it is that of having two detectives being 'forced' to work together and then becoming friendly by film's end (although second place on that list would certainly be the guy who pines for a hot girl without realizing that his devoted friend, who's a hot girl herself, is a better match for him).

While some films that have this cliché, such as Lethal Weapon (1987), were very successful, others, such as The Presidio (1988) do nothing new with that point.

One reason I enjoyed Shakedown is that it doesn't waste our time with the two heroes becoming friendly because they already are when the film opens.

Our heroes in this case are public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) and narcotics cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliott). Dalton is defending crack dealer Michael Jones (Richard Brooks) who is accused of murdering a NY police officer. Jones claims the killing was in self defense, which prompts Dalton to go to Marks, who is the only cop Dalton trusts, and see what he can find out.

As fate would have it, the prosecuting attorney in Dalton's case is his former lover Susan Cantrell (Patricia Charbonneau). Dalton soon resumes his affair with her despite the fact that he's engaged.

One of the funniest moments is when we first meet Marks, who spends his nights at a movie theater. There is also a thrilling moment when Marks chases a suspect onto a roller coaster, which is soon derailed.

Dramatically speaking, this film doesn't break any new ground (corrupt police are a film cliché in themselves), but it's fun watching pros like Weller and Elliott share the screen. One could call their characters two sides of one person, with Dalton being the legal side and Marks being the action side.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee (1994)

"After 73 days, the siege at Wounded Knee was over. Once we put down our guns and the television and the news reporters went home, the arrests began. They could say anything they wanted. Whatever we said was gone on a cold Pine Ridge wind. Here, where I found my life, my center, my people - where I found my first-born - nearly everything is gone now. The government tried to extinguish all signs that Indians once made their stand here. It will do them no good, because the world saw, the world heard. Even though, in time, Annie Mae Aquash and Pedro Bissionte were murdered by GOONS. Even though once again the government lied and betrayed us. Even though some of our leaders are still in jail, in the end it, will do them no good at all to try to hide it, because it happened. Today is still not ours but tomorrow might be because of that long moment those short years ago at Wounded Knee where we reached out and touched our history. I was there. I saw it. It happened to me. So that our people may live. So that our people may live."
-Mary Crow Dog.

Just before she endeared herself to children everywhere as the voice of Disney's Pocahantas(1995), Irene Bedard earned a Golden Globe nomination for her work as Mary Crow Dog in this film, which depicts the events leading to the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
The title location was also the site of the massacre of hundreds of Sioux in 1890 when the U.S. government broke the treaty it had established with the tribe by announcing that gold was in the area and, subsequently, sent in forces led by General Custer to remove any Sioux.
Mary's part of the story begins with her at boarding school during the 1960s. She later obtains and promotes literature telling how tribes were horribly treated as white men pioneered America. This leads to Mary being expelled.
But she later meets people who are affiliated with the American Indian Movement, led by Russell Means (Lawrence Bayne) and Dennis Banks (Michael Horse). With AIM, Mary becomes a fierce advocate of Native American rights, which culminates with the title standoff that began Feb. 27 and lasted over two months. Over 200 AIM supporters were surrounded by the U.S. military.
During that time, many (Indians and otherwise) were drawn into the plight of AIM, whose supporters demanded the re-opening of treaty negotiations with the government.
The entire cast is excellent, but Bedard truly carries the movie with her transformation into someone who embraces who she is and will do all she can to keep her heritage alive. The real Mary, who wrote the book this film was based on, also makes an appearance. She died in 2013.
I must also mention Peter Weller's nice cameo as a Colonel who advises the military about the stupidity of another massacre at Wounded Knee.
The standoff ended with Banks and Means being arrested and brought to Washington, although the charges against them were later dismissed.
This event would also be mentioned when Marlon Brando famously refused to accept his Oscar for his work in The Godfather (1972).
This film reminded me somewhat of In the Name of the Father (1993) in that it has a protagonist who is both incarcerated and goes through great loss at the hands of a government but emerges from the ordeal more determined than ever.
In recent years, Bedard's career has been sidetracked by (this is the short version) personal issues, but films like this show that she can and should be regarded as a great artist.

Monday, November 11, 2013

I Will Fight No More Forever (1975)

"You have had your revenge. Now the whites will have theirs!"
-Chief Joseph.

Once The Lone Ranger (2013) bombed big time, I heard some say that it may be quite a while before we see westerns on the big screen again. I certainly hope that the wait won't be long, but both Ranger's quality & Johnny Depp's hilarious assertion that it was film critics which kept the film from being successful make the stance that westerns are box office poison again somewhat understandable.
One of the criticisms against Ranger was Depp's portrayal of Tonto (I must confess, my first thought upon seeing stills of Depp in the film was that they overdid the war paint, but that turned out to be the least of the movie's problems). Some said it was no less racist that other Native American portrayals in previous westerns.
There are other films, though, have portrayed them in a more noble light, and one of the best examples of that is this TV movie which depicts the efforts of the Nez Perce tribe to avoid forced relocation in 1877. President Grant ordered Gen. Oliver Howard (James Whitmore) to force the tribe from its home on the Idaho-Oregon border and onto a reservation in what is now Oklahoma. Despite the non-violent pleas of Howard and his right hand Capt. Wood (Sam Elliott), tension increases between their soldiers and some of the Nez Perce. The resulting bloodshed leads to the tribe's Chief Joseph (Ned Romero) to head for Canada with his tribe.
Joseph surrendered after a 108-day journey of over 1,700 miles, giving his speech:
"from where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."
This episode led to admiration for the tribe and Joseph from many white people as word of Joseph's eloquent, non-violent surrender spread.
This movie, which would earn Emmy nominations for its writing and editing, makes it easy for us to side with the Nez Perce, with Romero perfect casting as Joseph. But Whitmore and Elliott are equally good because they are not the bloodthirsty, anti-Indian white men you might expect. Howard is already acquainted with Joseph when the movie begins and he tells Joseph that he does not wish to use force to relocate them. He also tells Wood that it is indeed wrong to relocate the tribe, but Howard does his duty because he knows that Grant will simply assign the unenviable task to another General if Howard does not comply. Wood, likewise, does his duty but is not unsympathetic to the Nez Perce either. One could say that they become as helpless as Joseph.
Hence, this story illustrates how people are forced into conflict but can still treat each other honorably.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Company (2003)

"Thinking about the movement is not becoming the movement."
-Alberto Antonelli.

Movies that are termed 'passion projects' often carry a greater risk of landing with a thud than being embraced as a timeless classic. For instance, Battlefield Earth (2000) is rightfully regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. Yet, I do feel a bit of sympathy for that film's star John Travolta because he fought & fought for years to get the film (based on the book of the same name by L. Ron Hubbard) green-lit. Perhaps it was this obsession to bring this film to the screen which blinded him to the fact that its focus on Scientology may not have given the story the across-the-board appeal that Star Wars (1977) generated.
But one passion project which turned out better is The Company, which focuses on the members of Chicago's Joffrey Ballet.
This movie was a long-time passion project for its star Neve Campbell, who plays company member Loretta "Ry" Ryan. Campbell, who began her career as a ballet dancer before making her mark as an actress, also co-produced and co-wrote this movie with Barbara Turner. Her success in the Scream films and Wild Things (1998) gave Campbell the clout needed to bring this story to the screen. She then achieved quite the coup by convincing the late, great Robert Altman to direct the film.
The movie itself is really a collection of scenes involving the company's various players (many of whom are appropriately played by real-life company members), including Ry, as they prepare for their show, under the guidance of company director Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell).
Ry later begins a romance with Josh Williams (James Franco), who is not a dancer himself but is supportive of Ry, especially when an injury forces her to back out of a performance. Franco also gets the film's sweetest moment at the end, when he brings flowers to Ry backstage while quickly going to his knees as the dancers onstage bow to the applause of the audience.
I've heard many people say that people who have never been waiters will gain a whole new level of appreciation for them if they spent just one day in that field. It didn't take me long to agree with that sentiment because I worked a few years in the restaurant industry myself.
On that same note, I'd like to think that this film will show people that ballet dancing is certainly more complex than it may appear to some. This film's Wikipedia page probably said it best when it says that this movie shows how ballet dancers put hardship and dedication into their art, even though doing so may not necessarily make them rich and famous.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Premature Burial (1962)

"Can you possibly conceive it? The unendurable oppression of the lungs, the stifling fumes of the damp earth, the rigid embrace of the coffin, the blackness of absolute night and the silence, like an overwhelming sea."
-Guy Carrell.

As this is Halloween, I've spent the past couple of weeks writing reviews of classic horror films on Among them are Roger Corman's great adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's works. Corman made a total of eight films in this series, beginning with The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) and ending with The Tomb of Ligeia (1965). All of these starred Vincent Price, except the third, The Premature Burial. Perhaps it's the lack of Price that made it less well-known than the other Poe films Corman made. Ironically, Price was Corman's first choice for the lead, Guy Carrell, but Price was under contract with American International Pictures and this film was made by Pathe. However, once filming was underway, AIP bought Pathe, making Burial an AIP production.

But Ray Milland proved a fine choice for Guy, a 19th Century man who lives in constant fear of being buried alive, despite the reassurances of his beloved Emily (Hazel Court), who soon marries him. But his fear remains strong due to the numerous horrible deaths which have befallen his ancestors. Guy enlists his sister Kate (Heather Angel) to help him build a tomb which one can open from the inside.

However, Emily forces him to destroy the tomb, which eventually leads to Guy's worst fear being realized.

As with the other films in Corman's Poe series, the photography looks wonderful and this film, again like the others, captures the spirit of Poe. While we've had many memorable film versions of Frankenstein and Dracula, I often wonder if we will ever see adaptations of Poe's work which will become as famous and as endearing as Corman's.

Corman's work has also become noteworthy for being the starting ground for some who would go onto become major movie legends, including Jack Nicholson and Martin Scorsese. So perhaps I should not be surprised that Francis Ford Coppola, a full decade before he made The Godfather (1972), worked on some of the dialogue for this film.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Dead Matter (2010)

"A zombie?"
"Actually, I think they prefer the term 'Post-Mortem Americans.'
-Jill and Frank.

This is a film I was graciously given as a gift when I went to the HorrorHound convention in Indianapolis last month. It was made by the music group Midnight Syndicate, which is known for its Halloween music. Edward Douglas, the group's founder (& the one who gave me this) is in the director's chair here.

Gretchen (Sean Serino) finds a mysterious object with strange powers which she uses to contact the spirit of her dead brother. To that end, she conducts a seance with her friend Jill (C.B. Spencer) and their respective boyfriends Mike (Tom Nagel) and Frank (Christopher Robichaud). But the site they pick turns out to be one where vampires roamed centuries ago and are now walking again. Soon, Gretchen has only a vampire hunter (Jason Carter) as her ally.

The characters are all likeable, but, hands down, the scene stealer is a vampire played by legendary gore master Tom Savini. This is not the first time he's appeared on screen, but he is clearly having the time of his life playing the undead. That may sound a bit ironic given the gory death scenes he gave himself in films such as Dawn of the Dead (1978), Maniac (1980) and Grindhouse (2007).

Dramatically speaking, this film may not break new ground. But if you want something fun to watch on Halloween, you can't go wrong with this.

Monday, October 21, 2013

100 Years of Horror (1996)

"I'm Christopher Lee. Join me for 100 Years of Horror!."
-Christopher Lee.

Anyone who went to the movies in 1996 may recall a promo which had a guy taking on various guises and giving patrons the usual rules of being in the theater (such as no smoking or no talking during the film), while pointing out that the cinema was a century old. That same year also saw the release of a documentary which is appropriate viewing for this time of year, and which, yes, is hosted by this site's favorite actor. This multi-part opus discusses many types of stories within the horror genre, going from the silent era to the present day.

Sir Christopher even brings wit at various points of his hosting, such as when he seemingly vanishes in the segment on sorcerers. I also enjoyed his thoughts on playing the title role in The Mummy (1959). He even mentions his role in The Man With the Golden Gun. Among the other segments are ones devoted entirely to Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. But other actors, including Lee's peers Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, are also referenced.

One segment is, naturally, devoted to the slasher genre, which is often credited (or blamed on, depending on your point of view), Halloween (1978) and which was declared dead by some at the start of the 1990s. Interestingly, the end of 1996 would see the release of Scream, which basically brought the slasher genre back to theaters, with, sadly, the same results.

Some may be disappointed that classics such as Jaws (1975) and Phantasm (1979) are not mentioned (missing out on one or two things is a risk whenever trying to cover any topic, I suppose), but there is no denying that research and devotion went into this production.

Interestingly, this documentary is available in an abridged 1 hour, 40 minute version, and in its multi-part format. Happily, both are available on DVD, although I personally recommend the latter for the simple reason that it's longer and, thus, has more info.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Interview with Ami Dolenz

Earlier this week, I had the chance to talk with Ami Dolenz. Her father is Monkee member Mickey Dolenz, but she's made a nice career for herself as an actress, in films such as She's Out of Control (1989), and a writer, with her recently published book, Harold and Agatha: The Mysterious Jewel. Fans can also find out about her upcoming projects on her website.

1. Ami, I’ll start with a question I’m sure you’ve been asked multiple times. What was it like growing up as the daughter of one of the Monkees?

-(laughs) if I had a nickel for every time..(laughs). My dad was a great dad. To me, it didn’t really seem different at all because it was just my dad. I remember Alice Cooper being around all the time because he was a next door neighbor. My dad was very loving, wonderful and funny. His sense of humor is one of the things I remember growing up.

2. At what point did you decide that you wanted to become an actress?

-I was probably in high school. When I was really little I wanted to but I didn’t pursue it. In high school, I started doing plays and got an agent. Now I’m in art school to pursue another profession.

3. Your company, KidPix Productions, stages birthday parties for children like movie shoots. Where did the idea for that come from?

-We decided to get rid of that company when we moved to Vancouver. It was a great company but was a lot of hard work. We had other avenues we wanted to explore. It was the combination of my husband, myself and my father. To tell you the truth, it came from a dinner conversation one night. I don’t remember who brought it up because it was a long time ago. I just remember putting it all together and coming up with ideas, like doing the makeup and hair, and yelling ‘Action!.’ We had to film in sequence, unlike an actual movie shoot. That made it more like a play.

4. Do you have a favorite of the TV or movie appearances you’ve done?

-I guess I’d say, for different reasons, I loved She’s Out of Control because I loved working with Tony Danza, and it was a fun character to play. It was like playing 2 characters, going from being an ugly duckling to someone who’s more confident. I also loved playing a genie (in Miracle Beach) because it was fantasy. General Hospital taught me so much and I love the people on that show. That was the first thing I did. I also love the scary movies I did because I love scary movies.

But I’d say She’s Out of Control sticks out because of the poster with me and Tony Danza.

5. Do you have a favorite co-star? Who would you like to work with?

-Tony Danza, but there are so many I’m trying to remember the names (laughs). I can’t think of one person I didn’t like working with. I really think I go into doing something with the intention of being a team effort.

6. You recently had a children’s book, Harold and Agatha: The Mysterious Jewel, published. What was the inspiration for that story?

-When I was about 7-8 I would spent summers with my dad in England. He’d always start off with a Harold & Agatha story. We never wrote anything down but I started loving these stories. He’d finish each story by the time I returned to the airport. I remember certain names & ideas. The story itself, though, is pretty much mine because we couldn’t remember much from what he told (laughs). I dedicated it to my daddy.

7. Do you plan to write other books?

-I’m working on a picture book with my dad now, & I’ll probably work on another Harold and Agatha story. Right now, I’m studying art at Emily Carr School in Vancouver. I wanted to be a cartoonist before I became an actress.

8. You also taught acting classes for children. What was that like?

-I loved it. I loved working with the kids. They were so much fun and I learned about acting from them, as well. We did KidPix after that. I might go back to teaching kids acting one day.

9. Your husband, Jerry Trimble, is also in show business. Do the two of you plan to work together on a movie?

-We did work on a movie called Shogun Cop. I played a bit part. It was before we married. If something comes up, we’d definitely love to work together. He’s doing youth motivational speaking. I’ve been helping him with that. We met in acting class so we had those scenes with each other.

10. Do you have any future movie or TV appearances in the works?

-Not really that I can discuss right now. But we’ll have to see. Keep your fingers crossed (laughs).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

In Search of Dracula (1975)

"Just a word, ladies and gentlemen. A word of reassurance. When you go to bed tonight and the lights have all been turned out and you look behind the curtain and you dread to see a face appearing at the window, just remember: There are such things!"
-Christopher Lee.

It is the month of Halloween, and one film which is ideal viewing is this wonderful documentary on Dracula. Directed by Swedish filmmaker Calvin Floyd and based on the book by Raymond McNally, this film examines not only the 1897 Bram Stoker book which started it all, but also vampire lore from long before its publication.

It also points out how Dracula was inspired by Vlad Tepes, the 15th Century Prince of Wallachia, who became infamous for the manner of which he disposed of his enemies such as the Turks.

It also looks at other notorious killers, such as Peter Kürten, who became known as the "Vampire of Düsseldorf" due to his drinking the blood of his victims and who, some say, became the basis for Fritz Lang's great movie M (1931), although Lang himself would claim this was not the case.

Naturally, the film looks at the famous screen depictions of the Count, including Nosferatu (1922), Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi, and Horror of Dracula (1958) with Christopher Lee, who, appropriately, narrates this documentary as well as appears as Vlad and the Count. Curiously, the scenes with Lee in the cape are from Scars of Dracula (1970).

Although The Satanic Rites of Dracula was released two years earlier, one could call this Sir Christopher's true swan song as the Count because it reveals the Count's origins and why the character has endured for over a century.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Interview with Catherine Mary Stewart

Like many, I became an instant fan of Catherine's thanks to her roles in such films as The Last Starfighter (1984) and Weekend at Bernie's(1989). It was a pleasure for me to chat with this beloved actress recently.

1. Catherine, at what point did you realize acting was the profession for you?

-I realized that “performing” was what I wanted to do when I did my first professional gig as a dancer with my company “Synergy” in Canada. I was overwhelmed with how it felt to perform in front of an audience. When I landed my first professional acting gig it just seemed like a natural progression and the reaction to my work reinforced my natural desire to perform.

2. You’ve also taken up dancing. Did you ever aspire to be a dancer?

- I started out as a dancer. When I graduated high school I moved to London, England and studied at a school called the London Studio Centre, with the thought that I would pursue my dancing further. It happened to be a general performing arts school so it was the perfect stepping-stone.

3. Throughout your career, you’ve worked with such famous stars as Christopher Reeve and Jean Simmons. Do you have any particular co-star that’s a favorite for you?

-I became very close with Charles Bronson and his wife, Kim. We did Sea Wolf together along with Christopher Reeve. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing, legendary actors. I worked with Rod Steiger twice for instance. Once in Hollywood Wives and he played my father in Passion and Paradise. Both of these mini-series were packed with amazing actors. I was probably the most star struck by Robert Preston in The Last Starfighter. He had an aura that was unmatched.

4. One of your earliest roles was a part on Days of Our Lives. What was that experience like?

- As I always say, other than dance it was the hardest job I’ve ever had. I have nothing but admiration for the actors on soap operas. It is unbelievably challenging to put out an hour show in one day. Everything was ‘cake’ after that.

5. You are obviously beloved by science fiction fans for your roles in The Last Starfighter and Night of the Comet. How was it making those films?

-They are gifts that keep on giving. Who knew that these little films would have such an enduring life and following. The Last Starfighter was the first movie I did in the U.S. It was an absolute joy to be a part of it. Night of the Comet was a labor of love. Truly a collaborative effort. I am eternally grateful for the experiences.

6. Would you like to do more science fiction down the road?

-I am open to anything, as long as I feel that the script is good and there are people involved with vision and integrity.

7. One of your most recent movies was A Christmas Snow. How did you like making that film?

-It was a lovely experience. This project was written, produced and directed by Tracy Trost. It was a story close to his heart. I loved the universal message of the story. It was reinterpreted for the theatre and the original cast performed in the stage version in Branson, Missouri in 2011.

8. I read that you are interested in directing. Do you have anything coming up with you in the director’s chair?

- I have a couple of scripts and ideas that I am developing. I’m very excited to move into this new realm, behind the camera.

9. Can you say anything about any upcoming acting roles you may have?

-I have a few pokers in the fire, so to speak, one of which is a very exciting cutting edge Sci-Fi idea. I really can’t say anything more right now, but will keep everyone up to date on my Face Book page and my website,

10. Are there any actors or actresses you’d love to work with?

- I think Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead would be a lot of fun to work with. He cracks me up. I have to say I’m in awe of Michelle Pfeiffer. She’s so talented and beautiful to watch. I aspire to be her, but working with her would be great too!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hugo Pool (1997)

"This is you-know-who. Leave a message right after the you-know-what."
-Hugo Dugay's answering machine.

In between her starring roles on Who's the Boss? and Charmed, Alyssa Milano kept busy in the acting world. Many of her films during this time, such as Poison Ivy II: Lily (1995) and Fear (1996), were not exactly stellar, but Milano never ceased to be delightful to watch.
Hugo Pool is the most interesting of her films during this period. Milano plays Hugo Dugay, a swimming pool cleaner in Los Angeles who becomes quite busy one day.
She enlists her bizarre father, Henry (Malcolm McDowell) to go to the Colorado River to obtain water to refill the pool of mobster Chick Chicalini (Richard Lewis). En route, Henry befriends a hitchhiker (Sean Penn). At the same time, Hugo is also helping out filmmaker Franz Mazur (Robert Downey Jr., whose father directed this movie). Her mother Minerva (Cathy Moriarty), who has a compulsion for gambling, wants to help her before becoming distracted by an upcoming horse race they are informed of by another customer, one Floyd Gaylen (Patrick Dempsey), who suffers from Lou Gehrig's Disease.
The characters are all colorful, to say the least, but this is Milano's film because she makes Hugo likeable immediately. The romance that develops between Hugo and Floyd is also sweet. The moment where he struggles to say "Your Welcome"(without his computer, which normally does his talking for him) when Hugo thanks him for helping out with Chick is particularly nice.
One of the most interesting moments in the film, though, occurs at the beginning, when Hugo is getting ready for her day. She lies in bed for a few moments and cries. We are never told why she was crying, but this could reflect helplessness that she feels about her life, something many of us may occasionally feel about our own.
Much like Sunshine Cleaning, I doubt the profession the protagonist has is much like it is in real-life, but, in both cases, it makes for an entertaining film.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Interview with Walker Brandt

Labor Day week proved quite busy for me. One fun job-related task that I had, though, was the pleasure of chatting with Walker Brandt. Here's an actress who has many nice TV and movie credits to her name, although the one that will always stick out for me is her portrayal of disgraced Starfleet cadet Jean Hajar in Star Trek: The Next Generation's "The First Duty" episode. She also has her own website as well as some nice videos about her filmmaking experiences.

1. Walker, one of my favorite of your appearances is in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The First Duty.” Were you a Trek fan prior to appearing on that show? How did you get cast as Jean Hajar?

-Well, the interesting thing about that is that I grew up watching Star Trek. My mom is a huge fan. She was raising four kids, so she didn’t go to any conventions. I fell asleep watching it myself, but we all sat and watched it growing up. I did develop an admiration for the genre and the show at a young age. I became a bigger fan after appearing on the show. I auditioned for Star Trek as a result of having done a role in the film City Slickers. Prior to auditioning for City Slickers I had been traveling around the world modeling and worked on a few commercials in Europe . Once City Slickers came out I started auditioning for film projects and Star Trek: TNG was the first television audition I had ever been on. I initially read with Star Trek: TNG casting director Ron Surma and had a callback a few hours later with the producers, I ended up reading most of lines I ended up doing in the co-star role. I was cast an hour later and was being fitted for wardrobe that evening, so it was pretty fast. I had some technical dialog so the casting office gave the actors a reference book that some actors called the Star Trek bible to look at with all the different terminology, which apparently NASA had a hand in putting together with the show’s creator and producers. One of my biggest concerns in performing the role truthfully was being able to say the technical words right but also getting a visual of what it was and also knowing what the other actors were talking about during our shoot when they used words I had never heard of, like Kolvoord Starburst. There was a last minute change to my character once I got on set. Jean was supposed to be the alien, but Michael Westmore, head of makeup, looked at me and said he wasn’t going to put that nose on me so the makeup went onto the other actress girl (Shannon Fill). I was grateful because I wasn’t sure if it was going to be itchy or distracting so I thanked Michael. After telling Michael that my mom was a huge Star Trek fan he asked me if I’d like to see the Star Trek museum on the Paramount lot and showed me some of the original Star trek prosthetics, which was amazing!

2. Did you ever entertain the notion of playing the role again?

-I would love to be on Star Trek again. My career went more into film after that. I did a series in Germany and a lot of films overseas. I then ended up taking time off to raise my family. I was so excited to work with Patrick Stewart, who is an amazing, brilliant talent.

3. Among the films you’ve been in are City Slickers(1991) and Dante’s Peak(1997). Any fond memories of those films?

-I have great memories of those films. I was very lucky to be introduced to the industry with some talented people. City Slickers was my first audition, so that was a whole new level. Improvising with Billy Crystal and Bruno Kirby and director Ron Underwood was great. They were so engaging, warm and welcoming. They spoiled me rotten, they sent me gifts all the time. I spoke to Bruno once a week, because we were playing husband and wife. He introduced me to my first acting coach and gave me the book Respect for Acting, which is fabulous. Bruno was such an amazing craftsman and extremely dedicated. I shot the film for two weeks in Universal and Culver City Studios which was fun.
Dante’s Peak was cast by Mike Fenton, who has been in the business forever. I went in and read for it with. I read with Mike in the first audition then was called back to read for the director, Roger Donaldson at the casting offices at Valencia Studios. It was a new experience for me because it was basically an improv audition. The director doesn’t really give direction, he just basically tells the actors that you’re in a specific circumstance and react to it. So he set up the scene which was “you are a volcanologist and the volcano you’ve been studying for months has just erupted and you are trying to get everyone organized and out in the midst of the chaos. Action!” (laughs) It was the whole scene and pretty intense to say the least!
Playing opposite Pierce Brosnan was another privilege. He was very generous and kind. At one point, we had 12 cameras on us inside that truck. They had everything covered it was amazing. I never worked quite like that. I also had the blood bags wired up to my hair. I never worked with anything like that before and it was really fun. Everyone on that set was incredible to work with.
I mainly focus on commercials and spend time with my family, which I couldn’t focus on as much when doing films. Being a working actor takes a lot of time and energy.

4. I saw you in a video on YouTube in which you talked about how you enjoyed working on a commercial for American Airlines. Are there any other commercials you have fond memories of doing?

-Commercial directors are so much fun to work with. It’s like a condenced movie. It is a big challenge for the director to get so much done in a short period of time. Commercials now have become more ‘real,’ which I love. The AA spot was the first time I worked with a very large Motion Camera which moved on a track at a very fast pace starting behind me then came within inches of my face as it passed. In the spot, I’m in that living room and then in an airplane. The room morphs into the interior of the plane and the message is you don’t have to miss the special moments with your kids now you can talk to your kids and say goodnight to them while flying. The camera is zooming right past me and the child who played my daughter sitting in the living room. The next day, I was shown an outline of where my head was the previous day, so I had to line my face up in the same position while sitting on the plane. The director was wonderful, and he knew the ins and outs. It was a really exciting experience because he made it easy. He was both technical and performance minded which was refreshing because it is rare that a director is both, the director was Gerard de Thame. That spot came out great. I’ve gotten more calls and compliments on that spot than on the others I did that year. I’ve probably shot between 50-100 commercials from products ranging from beer to carpet cleaning to Pharma. I’ve shot nearly every kind of spot over the years, except for pet food. It would be fun to work with a pet!

5. When did you realize that acting was the profession for you?

-After my audition for City Slickers (laughs). I wasn’t someone who grew up thinking I’d be an actor. I grew up with a passion for horses and thought I’d go into raising horses or psychology. I didn’t realize acting was a field for me until I was approached to do that role. Prior to that, I didn’t know I could model either. I was a tomboy and spent most of my time outside, so I was a nature girl. For me, all of it was a surprise. A photographer approached me for modeling but I wasn’t interested. But I gave in, per my boyfriend, and he shot a few pictures, which was strange and awkward. A few weeks later, I was told there was an agent that wanted to meet me. My boyfriend again persuaded me to pursue it. I then started traveling around the world and was exposed to a different world. I had a nickname, “Chameleon”, I had to pretend I was somebody else for every modeling picture I did because it was so uncomfortable for me and as a result my modeling pictures tended to look like different people. I was with Johnny Casablanca’s agency, Elite, for about a year and a half and then went to another agency, Flame. Lynn Pinkerton, the owner of Flame, told me I was an actress after looking at my photos. So when she got a call from Pam Dixon’s office a year later for City Slickers, Lynn sent me in and I was the only one she sent in for that role. At the time, acting and modeling were not as intertwined as they are now. I used to do little skits for my family as a kid at family get-togethers & I always enjoyed it but it wasn’t called acting or something my parents would have supported, until I started doing it. I may have gone into another field had I not had the exposure I did with such wonderful talented people. That kept me busy for about 10 years until I took time off for family.

6. Are there any actors or actresses that inspire you?

I’m a huge Julie Andrews fan. I loved Marlon Brando. I loved how he changed the craft of acting by taking it into this really raw place. He crossed the line in such a way and brought a raw, real grit to that classic form and changed acting forever. As far as inspiring contemporary actors, I don’t like Sean Penn’s politics (laughs) but he’s very talented, as is Robert Downey, Jr. I told my husband I want to come back as a guy who loves this acting gig and do it the way I want to (laughs). I love doing roles that are more character-driven. But in this business when you look a certain way it’s hard to get cast in some roles. Playing Dexter would be incredible, but I doubt a woman who looks like me would be cast (laughs). Robin Wright, the lead in House of Cards, is great too, but women who look like me are often cast in stereotypical roles. When I was younger, we would play crazy characters, which was fun. I don’t see many of those coming across my desk. I’ve always thought about doing my own projects but it is very time consuming and hard on my family.

7. To whom do you credit your success as an actress?

-Being in the right place at the right time (laughs). It’s such a luck of the draw. I have to take credit for some of it because I have the courage to go forward. Spending a lot of time in my imagination as a kid and trusting that with knowing how to play. My drive and my naïve childish willingness to go out and play with others definitely is where my success has come from. Success is an actor is about being playful in certain circumstances. Sometimes you want to play with your family, not with strangers, and playing with strangers is when you get jobs. The great actors are the ones which trust constantly, who have no inhibitions about who they play, like Spencer Tracy and Garbo.
I also credit everybody I have worked with because took a chance on me. I didn’t know anybody or have any relatives in the business. Those producers took a chance to make something special.

8. Other than Trek, do you have any favorite TV series or movies?

-House of Cards is a favorite. Downton Abbey is great direction, great writing, great performances. The Brits put out great TV and great film. They have a lot of fun and have more time than we do. They haven’t allowed themselves to buy into the superficial SFX world like we have. I love the classics. I’m a huge fan of The King & I and The Sound of Music, Casablanca, Rebecca. I love Hitchcock, Kurasowa and Ford. I fall asleep to classics almost every night I can because I love falling asleep to great work like that. Katherine Hepburn is one of my favorites. There was one movie from the 1940s with Ava Gardner and this guy-I can’t remember his name-gave this huge spit. It was gross, but it was stunning, especially for that time. You see quiet moments in the classics that are so riveting. Pilots are often a waste of time because, for one thing, they often don’t use the same actors. They also play it safe, which is not how great art is made. I love artists that don’t play it save. That is also what Netflix has done by buying many TV series. It’s giving the audience the respect of asking them what they want. I think we’ll see a big chance on TV with pilot season going the way of the dodo bird.

9. Do you prefer working in the theater or on a soundstage?

-I prefer working on a soundstage. I loved working in theater. I haven’t done as much as I’d like because of the time commitment & family. The most fun thing would be to do comedy in front of an audience because you have an audience giving you instant reciprocation for your work. But I love working on a soundstage because it’s all imagination, especially when acting in front of a green screen which was really fun. I was cultivated as a green screen actor when I was a kid (laughs). Doing a movie like Avatar or Lord of the Rings would be really fun because you are really collaborating as a team with the director and writers in order to create something from nothing. It’s so fulfilling to go there, into the deepest spaces of a human being and pull that reality from within yourself to believe what you’re not seeing.

10. Can you give us any hints about your upcoming projects?

-I’m mainly doing commercials right now. I just went out for a pilot about a week ago. I can’t talk about anything until I’ve shot it. There an issue with people Tweeting and Facebooking right now, so we have to sign non-disclosure agreements. Even films are pretty crazy. Some of my friends are working more on films, although it’s not as crazy as working on commercials. The PR department has to set up all the marketing and interviewing now. It’s even built into contracts for actors to engage with fans and on social media. Some actors may tweet that they got a commercial and are then fired before they shoot it.
My blog came about because of a director named Peter Hayaguchi. He said that I should discuss my experiences. My stepdaughter, who wants to direct, took a course from him. Being shot and directed by your own daughter is very interesting (laughs).
He took that same course and made a science fiction series called The New Kind, which is very interesting.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Interview with Lynda Halligan

Today for, I chatted with news anchor and fellow movie fan Lynda Halligan. She began her career working for the Creative Artists Agency. Lynda went on to host and produce Hollywood’s Top Ten for the ReelzChannel (see the below excerpt). She has also been a spokesperson for the shopping channel QVC as well as the consumer show Best Deals.
She is currently an anchor for CBS affiliate KBAK and Fox affiliate KBFX, where she is a morning anchor for Eyewitness News, near her native Los Angeles. You may also notice that her blogs are listed on the side of this one.

1. Lynda, you have had a lifelong love of movies and TV. When would you say was the moment that you knew you wanted to be on the screen yourself?
Lynda: I grew up acting and doing musical theater as a kid and I always liked making people laugh. I loved it, but I never wanted to pursue acting as a career. When I was younger, I WANTED to be a talk show host like Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas and Gary Collins, but I thought that was completely unrealistic (because it is). I was always a writer, but it wasn't until years later that I realized becoming a news anchor was actually a feasible career. Though I anchored the evening news for years, I'm much better suited for the morning format.
2. You are currently on Bakersfield Now as an anchor. How is being an anchor different from hosting a show like Hollywood’s Top Ten?
I recently returned to Eyewitness News in Bakersfield, CA as the morning anchor. I worked at this station before from 2003 to 2007. There are many differences between anchoring here and hosting Hollywood's Top Ten on Reelz. Eyewitness News Mornings is a four hour live show with a lot of hard news, but room for entertainment, features and fun, as well. There's a male anchor, a weatherman and a reporter. Hollywood's Top Ten was "live to tape" meaning you only do a second take if something goes SERIOUSLY wrong. Top Ten was my baby; I was the host, writer and producer. The topic was already decided when I came on board, but other than that, I created it from scratch, along with the executive producer of original programming at Reelz. I poured my heart and soul into it. It was a ton of work and I didn't do much else for a couple years, but I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. Movies and entertainment are my passion, so it was the perfect fit for me.
3. You’ve interviewed stars such as Burt Reynolds. Are there any other famous names you hope to interview?
I would love to interview Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey. They have both covered very serious topics and have interviewed countless celebrities, so I feel I would be able to live vicariously through them, in a sense.
4. You studied Criminal Justice and Social Behavior at the University of California. Given those topics, did you ever consider a career as a lawyer?
When I was in high school, I DID want to be a lawyer. I was pretty much obsessed with every courtroom drama movie of the week that was based on a true story. When I realized that very little of the job actually takes place in a courtroom, I thought it might not be for me. A big part of my decision was also the fact that I was not willing to take on all the school loan debt to put myself through law school. All these years later, I still can't get enough of Dateline, 48 Hours Investigates, Forensic Files, Snapped, City Confidential... you name it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I someday DID get my law degree.
5. What was it like doing shows for a network like QVC, which is known for its bargains?
I'm a HUGE bargain shopper, so QVC was a great place for me. That company truly knows what it's doing. It's as successful as it is for a reason. I almost never buy anything at full price, so bring on the coupons, sales and BOGO deals!
6. You’ve also been a disc jockey. Aside from an audience only hearing you, how is that different from talking on television?
I absolutely loved being a dj! At the time, I was a news anchor during the week and a dj on the weekends, so it was a nice change. I got to wear flip flops and shorts to work, instead of a stuffy suit. Nothing was scripted, so I could completely ad-lib and show my personality. And it was all positive, so I didn't have to give depressing news to anyone.
7. In addition, you’ve been a writer at Fox News and have a few blogs. Are there any future writing projects you have in store?
I really hope to get back into my blogs. I'd love to be able to find time to make daily entries. I have loved writing since I was very young; it's one of the main reasons I got into broadcast news in the very beginning. One day, I WILL write a screenplay, I WILL write a novel and I WILL write a children's book.
8. You’ve worked in the casting of many films, such as Alaska (1996). What was that kind of work like?
Feature film casting can be a blast, but expect to work hard and stay long hours... and be ready for everything to change at the drop of a hat.
I was fortunate enough to work for two of the nicest, coolest, gracious, most down to Earth casting directors in the world - Mary Gail Artz and Barbara Cohen. If it weren't for them, I don't know if I would have liked it as much. Actors always commented on how well they were treated by Mary Gail and Barbara, which is rare in the entertainment industry. They respected actors and wanted them to do well in their auditions. They were on their side.
9. Appropriately, you’ve appeared in a few films as a news anchor. Were those enjoyable experiences? Would you like to act in more movies?
I've played a news anchor in a number of projects. Since I am a real news anchor, it's not really acting for me. As for acting in other projects, if it was something funny or off the wall, I would do it for fun, but I don't think I'm very good at the dramatic stuff. I prefer to "act" like my wacky old self as a tv host.
10. Do you plan to work in films in other capacities?
I don't have any plans to work on more films at this point, but I like to keep busy, so if they come my way and I have time, I would be open to it.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)

"Commence Station Log, Deep Space Nine. Commander Benjamin Sisko, Stardate 46388.2. At the request of the Bajoran Provisional Government, Starfleet has agreed to establish a Federation presence in this system following the withdrawal of the Cardassian occupational forces. The first contingent of officers, including my Chief of Operations, Miles O'Brien, arrived two days ago on the Enterprise."
-Cmdr. (later Capt.) Benjamin Sisko.

This blog can be quite the challenge to write for sometimes. Some of what I've reviewed is actually well-known among some people, if not the general public.
So, I was debating for a while about whether or not to write about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which is, in some ways, the last great installment of the Trek saga.
Debuting during the middle of the sixth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it takes some of what was established in that show and takes it in a different direction.
Unlike the first two Trek series or the following two, this series takes place not on a starship, but a space station. The title location is a station which was once run by the Federation's enemies, the Cardassians (introduced during TNG's fourth season), and which is orbiting the planet Bajor (the Bajorans were introduced in TNG's fifth year).
Starfleet has selected Cmdr. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) to command the abandoned station once the Cardassians leave the Bajoran system. Sisko certainly has his work cut out for him as he has to work with Maj. Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) who has spent her life fighting Cardassians and is skeptical about Federation involvement in the rebuilding of her world. His chief of security, the shapeshifter Odo (Rene Auberjonois), who worked for the Cardassians while secretly helping the Bajorans, is also iffy about a Starfleet presence, although not nearly as much as the continued presence of Ferengi bartender Quark (Armin Shimerman), who has a shady history of gambling and theft but whom Sisko blackmails into staying and helping rebuild.
Among Sisko's Starfleet personnel is Chief Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney), whom fans already knew from his appearances on TNG, science officer Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), whom Sisko was previously acquainted with due to the symbiotic nature of her race, the Trill, and rookie Dr. Julian Bashir (Siddig El Fadil, later Alexander Siddig), who views the situation as a great new adventure.
One great dramatic twist in the show's premiere episode "Emissary," is that Sisko has harsh feelings toward Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). In TNG's classic "The Best of Both Worlds" two-parter, Picard is kidnapped by the Borg as part of their plot to conquer the Federation. They then proceed to turn him into one of them and use his knowledge to eradicate an armada of Starfleet ships.
The beginning of "Emissary" shows a flashback to that battle where Sisko, his wife Jennifer (Felicia M. Bell) and their son Jake (Cirroc Lofton) were on the U.S.S. Saratoga. Although Sisko and Jake managed to escape, Jennifer perished while saving Jake during the battle. This loss left Sisko without a purpose during the following three years.
However, during the events of "Emissary," Sisko makes contact with entities whom the Bajorans refer to as their Prophets. They are discovered to be the guardians of a wormhole, which would allow instant passage to the Gamma Quadrant, a distant part of the galaxy. Cardassians led by the station's former ruler Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) attempt to sabotage the team's efforts to claim the wormhole on behalf of the Federation and Bajor, but Sisko triumphs after convincing the aliens that they mean no harm and they, in turn, help him come to terms with the loss of his wife and, thus, begin life anew.
For the show's first two years, the stories revolved around exploring the space on the other side of the wormhole as well as political machinations between Bajor, the Federation and the Cardassians.
But the show took a new direction at the end of its second year with the episode "The Jem'Hadar." That installment introduced a new foe called the Dominion, which originated from the Gamma Quadrant and forcefully demanded that the Federation and Bajor leave their space.
This led to more serialized stories from the series from its third season on with such twists as the discovery that Odo's own people are the leaders of the Dominion, the station acquiring a small but powerful warship, the U.S.S. Defiant, and Sisko's promotion to Captain at the season's end. That season also brought tension between the Federation and other established powers such as the Klingons.
Indeed, DS9's fourth season begins with TNG regular Worf (Michael Dorn) joining the show. The idea for including Worf was to boost ratings for the show, but, fortunately, the character proved a nice fit for the series, even though he never got the interesting storylines that he got on TNG (If I had to pick Worf's finest moment, it would probably be the climax of the fourth season TNG episode "Reunion," when he avenges the death of his lover K'Ehleyr).
I must also make special mention of the fifth season episode "Trials and Tribble-ations," a wonderful nod to the show that started it all in which the crew travels back in time to stop a Klingon from killing Kirk during the events of the classic original series episode "The Trouble With Tribbles."
Unlike the following two Trek series, Voyager and Enterprise, DS9 succeeded because it chose to establish its own tone rather than simply rehashing which other Trek series had done before. In this case, the show had the most concentrated story arcs of all the Trek shows (to the extent that it was called Deep Space 90210 in some circles).
TNG's first season is regarded as that show's weakest, and, indeed, many of those early episodes are, for all intents and purposes, rehashes of original Trek episodes. However, DS9's weakest season proved to be its final one. Its sixth season ended with the death of Dax and the symbiont being transferred to new host Ezri (Nicole de Boer) at the start of Season 7.
But what made that season the show's worst was the all-too-hasty manner in which the war between the Federation and the Dominion wrapped up. The conflict began with the Season 5 finale "Call to Arms" and provided some great television, perhaps the best moment being the Season 6 episode "In the Pale Moonlight," in which Sisko finds himself resorting to drastic measures to enlist the Romulans in fighting the Dominion.
But the finale did not give the dramatic fireworks two years of buildup promised. For instance, Odo basically guarantees that his people stand down after he heals one of the Dominion's leaders. For some reason, the war simply ends then and there, prompting one to ask why Odo simply didn't ask such a favor beforehand and, presumably, save many lives.
The final season also basically turned Dukat from a complex character into a generic bad guy. In his own look at the character, SFDebris suggested that it may have been better for Dukat to have his final appearance in the sixth season episode "Waltz," where Sisko and Dukat find themselves in a battle of wills while stranded on a distant planet.
Another thing I disliked about the season was how Sisko leaves the proceedings after a final confrontation with Dukat. He apparently joins with the Prophets, becoming one of them. It was also established at the beginning of the season that his real mother was a Prophet herself. He also doesn't seem to express much disdain over the fact that he is being forced to abandon Jake and his pregnant new wife Casidy Yates (Penny Johnson).
Some have hand-waved these weak points away by telling people to read the DS9 books which chronicle what happens after the finale, titled "What You Leave Behind." With that logic, though, Trek fans should be fine with the rotten death Kirk suffered in Star Trek: Generations (1994), since there are books which have Kirk coming back.
Despite a weak final season, DS9 proved a great addition to the Trek universe. One might ask, then, why it did not enter pop culture the way the original Trek series and TNG had done. I've heard many reasons for this including its space station setting, its serialized nature and even, unbelievably, the fact that its lead actor was black (the latter I read in an issue of the now-defunct Star Trek Communicator magazine).
I actually have my own theory on this matter. One of the people who would ensure that DS9 would churn out great TV was Ira Steven Behr, who began his association with Trek by being a producer on TNG from 1989-1990. He left that show due to his dissatisfaction with the direction TNG was going. But he was brought back into the Trek fold when DS9 was launched.
Once DS9 got going, though, it seemed that Behr took every opportunity to knock TNG whenever he promoted DS9. It was almost as if he was saying "TNG sucks! Watch DS9 instead!" Not liking TNG is one thing but basically criticizing the show that made your own possible is hardly the way to get people to embrace it.
Nevertheless, DS9's willingness to create its own identity should allow it to stand proudly alongside the previous two Trek series.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Interview with Chris Wyse

My next interview for was conducted with musician Chris Wyse in March of this year. Chris is known for playing with the band Owl.

RK: Chris, you are originally from New York but moved to Los Angeles to pursue your music career. Do you consider L.A. your official home now or are you still a New Yorker at heart?
CW: I’m definitely an L.A. person. It’s been 18 years here in Hollywood. I was born in Queens and later moved upstate to Saratoga where I met (Owl bandmate) Dan (Dismore). We both played in a high school band.

RK: You played for Ozzy Osbourne from 2003-2005. What are your favorite moments of working with him?
CW: It was a great experience. The work I did was released on the Prince of Darkness box set. Ozzy asked me back for five more songs that were added to the record and released as "Under Cover." When I was a young kid, I told my parents I was going to go out to Hollywood and play bass for Ozzy Osbourne someday. So it was totally wild to later phone them from the studio to tell them I was doing exactly that.

RK: Do you have a favorite song from over the span of your career?
CW: “She’s So High” is one that sticks out, since that was the first time meeting Bob Rock. There’s also the Owl career and what I contributed over the years. That’s really a complex question, but I’d say "The Right Thing" and
"Pusher" are my favorites right now.

RK: What would you say the differences between the two groups are?
CW: The Cult’s a classic band, so that undeniable right there. They became like a big brother to me. But it’s a different balance than with Owl. I’d say lead singer roles are the biggest difference. Owl is going progressive, and The Cult’s good classic rock & roll. So much has changed since 1984 with the Cult and 2013 with the release of "The Right Thing."

RK: Owl has been working on its upcoming album, The Right Thing, since 2011. How would you say it differs from the group’s previous work?
CW: I think we got better. Our songs are pretty focused and my sense of melody has grown. There are some new things I did on bass and we did some interesting layers. For example we have bagpipes on the song "Rover."

RK: A love of music aside, what else would you say you have in common with your Owl bandmates Dan Dismore and Jason Achilles Mezilis?
CW: We share the same kind of enjoyment for summer activities, like having barbecues and having a beer. We also have a love of traveling. We’ve really enjoyed our road trips together.

RK: You began your music career with local bands such Xodus, East Wall and Mr. Strange. How would you credit those with helping shape your career?
CW: My original bands document my sound and style. Each of my previous bands was a great learning ground for everything I’m doing now. My life's work is all in my playing and recordings.

RK: Of the places you’ve toured, do you have a favorite? Is there somewhere specific you hope to go?
CW: I like going to South America. I’ve been there a few times with The Cult since 1999 and the crowds there are amazing. I am hoping to return there with Owl. It’d be a lot of fun.

RK: You currently do both bass and vocals? Was this by accident or did you intend to perform both?
CW: Maybe to some degree it was an accident. Friends in New York wanted me to play bass. But singing came naturally to me. I was in the choir, so I always enjoyed singing.

RK: Any hints on what we can expect from Owl in the future?
CW: We’re hoping for really good shows in New York & L.A. and some new videos. We’ll be spreading the word via the Internet. We’re also going to be doing acoustic performances.

Interview with Alicia Minshew

Before I began writing for, I wrote for My first interview for them was conducted in Jan. 2012, when I had the pleasure of chatting with actress Alicia Minshew, whom many know as Kendall Hart in All My Children. Alicia, first of all, let me start by saying that my sister is a big fan of All My Children.

Alicia Minshew: Thank you. That’s really cool. How did she react to hearing that it was cancelled?

TCC: She was down about it although we both heard a while back that it would be online now. I’ve heard, though, that plans to revive the series are currently suspended.

AM: Yeah, I thought that might happen. I just wasn’t sure how it would work. Right now, we’ve been doing fan events to show the fans we appreciate them, so be on the lookout for future projects.

TCC: Would you be willing to be part of the online series if you were asked?

AM: I don’t know, maybe as a recurring character. But, after being on the series for 10 years playing Kendall (Hart), I’m looking to do other things. I don’t think I’d do it full-time again, though.

TCC: Kendall was previously played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Was it intimidating to play a role that was already established by another actress?

AM: It was very intimidating (laughing). I heard how great Sarah was so I thought ‘I’d better kick ass in this.’ But she played the role seven years before I did, so I thought there was long enough period of time for me to establish myself in it. But, yeah, I was scared out of my mind for the first few weeks and felt I really had to prove myself.

TCC: Did you ever meet her?

AM: I actually met Sarah a year after I started playing the role. She and Eva LaRue are friends and she came to the set to see her. We just gave each other a big hug and she said I was doing a great job. Sarah had actually sent me a basket of flowers, cakes and cookies with a note saying that Kendall was a great role and for me to have fun playing her. That was really gracious.

TCC: You’ve also made appearances as the character on One Life to Live. What was that like?

AM: That was during a period of time when there was a baby-swap storyline between those shows. Characters from OLTL crossed over onto AMC so Kendall was pissed and went to their town to raise hell. It was kind of fun to play the same character on a different set with a different group of people. But everyone was really supportive and it was fun.

TCC: How was the work routine affected when AMC relocated from New York to Los Angeles?

AM: I actually moved out a few months later because I was on maternity leave for eight or nine months. That was a tricky time because I was taking my daughter across the country to a place where I was now working. It took a while to get back into the swing of it. The workload became harder and we were trying to save money so the show wouldn’t go off the air. It was a tough schedule with a lot of hours and a lot of memorizing scripts. But I wouldn’t trade it because I was working with the same great people, so it was like working with family.

TCC: Are you still in L.A?

AM: Yes, I’m still in L.A. I’m doing pilot season right now, going on auditions. I’ve lived in New York for 16 years and I’m originally from Florida, but it’s different in L.A. because of my child, Willow. With the gorgeous weather they have here, I can take her out by the pool in January. I’m also in Hollywood, and there’s a lot going on there. So, this is a nice place to be for my career.

TCC: You have appearances planned in a show on Oxygen and an independent film. Can you tell us anything about those?

AM: I’m actually meeting with a dialect coach. I’m going to be playing a southern girl for a film that will start shooting in March. Apparently, the producers offered me the role after seeing me on the show and the role is different from Kendall. It’s been fun working with the dialect coach. It’s great how the show has opened doors for me. I also have a guest appearance on a reality show that will air this month or next month. So it’s nice that I’ve been keeping busy.

TCC: Do you have any actors or actresses that have inspired you?

AM: There are so many people. Like many actresses, I just love Meryl Streep. She can just transform herself into anybody. She’s so brilliant. I also like Sandra Bullock because she comes off as a girl next door. She can either may you laugh or break your heart. Even if I may not like a film she’s in, I always enjoy watching her. I’m hoping to see her new film with Tom Hanks soon.

TCC: Yeah, I’d like to see that film also. Are there any non-actors who are an inspiration to you?

AM: Two people outside the business who have inspired me are my mother and grandmother. My grandmother just turned 100 recently and she was dancing at her party. She is someone who loves life and is positive. They are both great examples for me and I am trying to be the same with my daughter.

TCC: Any favorite TV series or movies?

AM: My husband and I love Modern Family. It is so hilarious, so funny. I actually don’t watch a lot of TV right now, though, because I’m raising my daughter. One show I would love be appear on, though, is Grey’s Anatomy. The show isn’t always upbeat but the actresses are so brilliant on it. That would be awesome.

TCC: You’ve done a lot of stage work. How is that different from working on television?

AM: It’s night and day. I did a lot of musicals, with parts where I did a lot of singing and dancing. There’s nothing like the feeling of an audience reacting to you. In the theater, you can be big, whereas on TV, you simplify what you do. You bring it down. I love them both because they are very different. I’m very happy I can do both. On TV, you memorize 30 pages, but you feel pride when the finished product is done to music and shown. The last theater I did was 12 years ago in an off-Broadway production. Last weekend, I was onstage with other AMC cast members at a fan event. I was speaking live on stage and loved it. It was so fun just to have that live, big audience of fans. We shared behind the scenes stories and we were laughing and the audience was laughing.

TCC: Many actors/actresses say they don’t wish their children to follow in their footsteps? Do you feel the same?

AM: This business can be grating, exhausting, upsetting and difficult. Right now, Willow is standing on her head (laughing) so I won’t be surprised if she wants to be an entertainer. If she wants to pursue it, I won’t stop her. I’ve wanted to be an actress from a young age and my parents supported me. Willow will be tough like me. She’ll have good times and difficult times. It’ll be a hoot, actually. But I won’t push her, though. She’s still standing on her head (laughing).

Romero (1989)

"I'd like to make an appeal in a special way to the men in the army. Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are the same People. The farmers and peasants that you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the words of a man telling you to kill, think instead in the words of God, 'Thou shalt not kill!' No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the Law of God. In His name and in the name of our tormented people who have suffered so much, and whose laments cry out to heaven: I IMPLORE YOU! I BEG YOU! I ORDER YOU! STOP THE REPRESSIONS!"
-Archbishop Oscar Romero.

The recent decision to make Popes John XXIII and John Paul II saints prompted me to review this film, which depicts the heroism of another figure who many say should be made a saint-Oscar Romero, who peacefully protested the violent military regime in El Salvador until his assassination in 1980.

The late, great Raul Julia was probably best known for playing Gomez Addams in The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993). His posthumous Emmy win for playing real-life rainforest activist Chico Mendes in The Burning Season (1994) was a fitting farewell to him.

He is equally excellent here as Romero, and the film, which was funded Paulist Pictures (which was run by Paulist Fathers, priests from the Roman Catholic Church), doesn't spare any dramatic punches in its depiction of the horrific events that Romero witnesses each day and attempts to stop.

The film begins with Romero arriving in El Salvador in 1977 to begin his new duties as the country's Archbishop. Some believe that he is unfit for the positions and, initially, Romero attempts to placate the people who speak out against the country's totalitarian government.

But Romero begins speaking out himself when he realizes that the government rigs elections and tortures and kills innocent people, including his friend Fr. Grande (Richard Jordan).

Romero's efforts bring him international attention, as does his assassination while giving Mass on March 24, 1980.

The cast is terrific, but it's Julia who makes the movie work, perfectly expressing anguish at what he is experiencing but never backing down on his efforts to stop the madness around him, even when he is offered protection by the government.

While nobody was ever held accountable for Romero's death and he was not the last victim of such violence in the country, Romero's efforts left a lasting legacy.

Thirteen years after Romero's death, an official apology was issued by El Salvador's president Mauricio Funes to Romero's family and Church officials.

Follow-up thanks!

Just a quick addendum to my interview with Kirsten Vangsness.
I am happy to report that, earlier this month, the film's campaign on Kickstarter successfully raised enough money, and then some, to finish filming.
Thanks to everybody who contributed and helped insure that this film will be seen!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Diary of Anne Frank (1980)

"For the past two years, we lived in fear. Now we can live in hope!"
-Otto Frank.

Of all the literature written about the Holocaust (and this is not even mentioning the global conflict that surrounded it), the most famous is probably The Diary of Anne Frank, published in 1947 by the title character's father, Otto. This may be the most famous of all stories related to the Holocaust because many (myself included) first read it in grade school.

The Frank family and four others, because they were Jewish, hid in the attic of an office building in their native Holland to evade Nazi capture from 1942 until they were discovered in 1944. Sadly, seven of the eight died in concentration camps. Otto was the only survivor and, after the war, he came across his daughter's diary, which he published in her honor, as she had dreams of being a writer.

The diary itself, like many diaries, tells of the author's hopes and dreams. Anne even mentions D-Day at one point.

The story was adapted for the stage and the screen numerous times. Perhaps the most famous film version is the 1959 movie directed by George Stevens and for which Shelley Winters won an Oscar for her performance as Mrs. Van Daan.

One of my favorite versions of the story, though, is this one, which aired on NBC and stars Melissa Gilbert (in the midst of her run as Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie) as Anne.

The film begins in 1945 Amsterdam, where Otto (Maximilian Schell) returns to the attic he and his family hid in and tells his friends to get rid of everything. But when he discovers Anne's diary, he sits down to read it.

The flashback then begins with him, Anne, his wife (Joan Plowright), and his other daughter Margot (Melora Marshall) go into the office building with the Van Daans (James Coco and Doris Roberts) and their son Peter (Scott Jacoby). They are later joined by Mr. Dussel (Clive Revill).

Appropriately, the film then never goes outside the attic the eight on in, which adds to the feeling of isolation they occasionally display frustration at.

But the magic of this film lies in its wonderful cast. There isn't a single false note in the characterization here, which makes the ending especially poignant.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Snack Bar Promo 1970

This entry is about one of those fun promos for the snack bar which anyone who's been to a drive-in is familiar with.

Although drive-in's aren't as prominent today as they were from the 1950s-1980s (my guess being that most anyone today can have a double feature in their own home with just a Blu-ray player and/or streaming), they are still around and remain great fun. I've always particularly loved the animated promos during the intermission that tell patrons to go to the snack bar. The most famous of these is Let's All Go to the Lobby, which premiered in 1957 and was made by the legendary Dave Fleischer, the man behind both the Popeye and (the 1940s) Superman cartoons. This promo, with its animated popcorn, soda and hot dogs, became so famous that it was placed in the National Film Registry in 2000.
Last night, I was at the drive-in in Amelia, OH for a double feature of Monsters University and Man of Steel.
This recent drive-in visit also prompted me to go back and review this specific promo, which I first saw not on a drive-in screen but on a VHS tape, which was a collection of trailers for classic monster films such as Dracula (1931) and Night of the Living Dead (1968). This promo concluded the show, and makes nice use of Bach's 'Tocatta' and the simple but effective use of lighting to give those feasting on pizza in this promo a ghoulish appearance.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Interview with Kirsten Vangsness

This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Kirsten Vangsness, who plays Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds and is also using Kickstarter to fund her upcoming movie, the comedy noir Kill Me, Deadly. I've seen portions of it online and it look hilarious, so, if you like great comedy, I would recommend pledging some money to Kickstarter so the film can grace our cinemas.

1. Kirsten, let's talk about your passion project, Kill Me, Deadly. From the portions of it I've seen online, it looks hilarious. Do you have any favorite comedies? Any favorite film noirs?

Kirsten-You know, it's written by a bunch of my theater friends, who I've known since before Criminal Minds. We are all big fans of old movies. It's like Young Frankenstein meets Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid meets Airplane meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Doing this was so great because it was certainly a love letter to loving, but not pandering, comedy. I love Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon. What's cool about Kill Me, Deadly is that there are a lot of inside jokes. We actually have a scene with a character named Ida, who is the secretary who knows everything but no one knows she knows everything. She has the Maltese Falcon behind her in that scene.

2. What inspired you to use Kickstarter to fund the movie?

K-You know, we have been shooting for about four years and it’s half-filmed. Eighty percent of the money has come from me. It was important to me that everyone was paid the same amount. We have 11 more days of shooting and 20% more of funding to do. Our director, Darrett Sanders, is going back to teach school. I’m the only one out of the eight of us that has funds to be able to do this. This is what I love to do. It’s important that I paid for it, so my seven producer friends can contribute to it as well. The movie will be done in August. I’m almost done shooting it and I’m shooting it while doing Criminal Minds. It will be edited in September.

3. At what point did you realize that acting was your professional calling?

K-I didn’t realize that until I got Criminal Minds (laughs). If it’s your dream, you should be doing it. I started acting in high school. I was too shy, so my mom said I could take acting. This is beyond my wildest dreams that I can make my living acting.

4. You've also had work published in the Los Angeles Times magazine. What do you like to write about? Do you plan to write any books?

K-I started writing because it was hard to find acting jobs. I didn’t like any monologues in auditions, so I started to write my own things. Since then, I have written a couple of shows. I was nominated for playwright of the year for a play I wrote called Potential Space. I like writing about what to me are like questions that I have about myself and the human condition. I find quantum physics fascinating so I like to write about that, and I like things that make me laugh. I don’t know if I will write a book. I love doing other people’s work, but I am so into performing stuff I write.

5. You're involved with Theater of Note in Hollywood. How is that different from acting on the screen?

K-It’s different because of the popularity of Minds. Forty eight people watch Note and Minds is watched by millions. To have my cast members come to note and see plays there is so beautiful to me. On television, you have an intimate moment with the camera. In theater, you are making something live with people there. My brain doesn’t understand that you don’t get another take ever. I’m finally learning on TV that you can do something over if you make a mistake. I don’t believe it when people say theater actors can’t become great television actors.

6. Moving to Criminal Minds, do you have a favorite episode?

K-Goodness, usually the one we are shooting is my favorite because I love my job. I love the ritual of creating the scenes. We did a two-episode arc about Penelope, so that was a dream come true. But I love the people I work with because they are so funny. So it’s really hard to pick an episode. But this season, she went out with someone and dressed like Dr. Who, so that one was a lot of fun.

7. How would you say you're similar to Penelope?

K-We can both talk really fast. We are also energetic & we both think Shamar Moore is delicious. Both of us do not like violence & have a low threshold for it. But she’s more confident than I am & has computer skills that I don’t. We are both from outer space but from different planets.

8. Minds was recently renewed for a ninth season. What are your hopes for the show and Penelope?

K-Oh, gosh. The writers started work again last week. I was there to see what they were doing. They are really going to focus on origin stories this year & I’m really looking forward to that. I’m always so curious as to how they come up with things.

9. Many stars of hit series go on to direct one or more episodes. Do you see yourself doing that with Minds?

K-No, I don’t think that I’d be into. I don’t like telling anybody what to do. Not that our directors are like that, but they have a vision of seeing things in a really cool way & I’m not like that. I would like to write one, which would be cool.

10. Do you have any future movie or TV appearances set?

K-I’m going to start back July 8 on Minds. I don’t have anything on the burner but I have a bunch of charity things coming up that I’m excited about. I’m on the advisory board of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, which is a children’s cancer charity. I’m so proud to be on that and help them. Joe Mantenga and others from Minds come with me every year when I do that.

11. You also appeared on the show's spinoff Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. Any fond memories of that show?

K-That was just so strange and wonderful. I already have a job and to get a call to play the same character on a different show was so great. The best part was to watch how different people interpreted a character I’ve played for years. It was really, really fun.