Talkin’ with Piper Laurie (Thespian)

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3 Academy Award Nominations (including 1961’s “The Hustler”, 1976’s “Carrie” and 1986’s “Children of a Lesser God”)…

9 Emmy Award Nominations (including 1 win for 1986’s “Promise”)…

4 Golden Globe Nominations (including 1 win for 1990’s “Twin Peaks”)…

And now, it is my great privilege to play for you the conversation I had with Piper Laurie yesterday about her life and career…

Enjoy!

 

“The Vampire Diaries” (Seasons 1 – 5) Discussion

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The Vampire Diaries

In this episode, Mirela Pilipo (TV.com) and I discuss the first five seasons of “The Vampire Diaries”…

Saving “The Vampire Diaries” (Article): http://www.tv.com/shows/the-vampire-diaries/community/post/saving-the-vampire-diaries-1411435116/

“The Vampire Diaries” Season 1 Poster: http://homecinema.thedigitalfix.co.uk/protectedimage.php?image=CoverArt/vampdiaries1dvd.jpg_04062010

“As Above, So Below” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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There’s this to be said at the very beginning: the trailers for AS ABOVE, SO BELOW managed to give us the gist of the movie without revealing any of the actual backstory… all I knew going in was “Paris catacombs, entrance to Hell.” So I was rather pleasantly surprised at the beginning when the latest from John Erick Dowdle (QUARANTINE, DEVIL) placed us back in Harry Potter territory with the legend of Nicholas Flamel and the study of alchemy… a family pursuit of a gifted young professor by the name of Scarlett (Perdita Weeks). After risking life and limb uncovering a soon-to-be-demolished secret in the Middle East, she finds herself on the trail of the legendary Philosopher’s Stone; and with the help of a reluctant assistant, some young local “tour guides” and (sigh) her ever-present documentarian…

Okay. The film begins interestingly enough, and I’ll also say (without spoilers) that the ultimate resolution of the film is well-handled and original for this type of thriller. Unfortunately, “this type of thriller” is simply yet another “found footage” expedition in which the footage couldn’t actually have been “found.” Multiple characters have “pen cameras” in their lighted headbands, so we can switch perspective whenever we like; and if you’re prone to vertigo and nausea (luckily, I’m not) with hand/head-held “shaky-cam” footage, you’re going to particularly hate this one.

My problem with AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is that despite the earnest research and thought that went into creating the situation in the first place (which at the very least gives us some NATIONAL TREASURE-type puzzle solving sequences which hold reasonable interest), once you get into the catacombs, it’s the same old weary thing yet again. Some potentially intriguing preliminary material (focus on a strange young lady on the outside who turns up leading a weird chanting cult in the passages) is completely forgotten, and all we have left is a series of incidents in which the crew is knocked off one by one while being haunted by visions of their deepest fears and guilt… never mind THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT–I liked this one “hell” of a lot better when it was called EVENT HORIZON.

You might find it strange to see me complaining about overly familiar material when I just praised THE NOVEMBER MAN for being formula that worked, but as far as I’m concerned, the majority of this movie simply DOESN’T work because I couldn’t have cared less what happened to anybody in it and because the f.f. technique comes with its own pre-set limits (essentially, you can get away with one or two “boo” scares and that’s pretty much it these days). Had the Brothers Dowdle (Drew contributed to the screenplay) fashioned this as a straight-up narrative film and NOT as a mock-doc, this could have worked and worked very well. As it turned out, I spent the majority of the running time bored out of my skull.

“The November Man” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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In 1999, CIA agent/trainer Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) resigns his position and drops his trainee Mason (Luke Bracey) after a protection assignment goes disastrously wrong. Fourteen years later, Devereaux is pressed back into action as the only man who can possibly extract a valuable source of information from hostile territory. This leads to another encounter involving multiple fatalities, leaving one survivor on each side. Guess who. Owing to the initial shock of recognition, each one lets the other walk away… this time. Stage set.

I could go on to provide far too many details regarding the social worker (Olga Kurylenko) who holds a vital key to the situation; the implications of a long-ago Chechen hostility; the relentless, athletic female Russian assassin on everybody’s trail, etc. etc., but why should I prevent anyone from merely letting the series of plots, counterplots, crosses and double-crosses play out?

The cast is excellent throughout; and Brosnan scores in particular by NOT lazily reprising his Bond mannerisms even when he’s called upon to say and do certain similar things–Brosnan sets the tone of THE NOVEMBER MAN at an early stage when confronted with photographs of the dead bodies of several of his former colleagues–you see the very real grief cross his face even as he mouths the familiar refrain “They knew the risks.”

When the cat-and-mouse games begin in earnest, a nice touch is provided when Devereaux discovers that Mason never even bothered to change his cell phone number: the teacher and pupil engage in relaxed, real-time conversation and barbs even as they attempt to outwit and destroy each other. And when the action happens, it’s brutal and to the point. Director Roger Donaldson (THE BANK JOB) handles the violence and dry humor equally well and never allows the pace to slacken.

There will be no complaints regarding “formula” from me, and I shamelessly confess that I knew from the moment I saw the first trailer for THE NOVEMBER MAN that it was one I definitely wanted to see. Sure, I was ahead of certain aspects of the game–but I was never completely sure how it would turn out until it actually did so. The promise of a good old-fashioned spy thriller (even if this one WAS based on a book named THERE ARE NO SPIES) still holds plenty of allure; and THE NOVEMBER MAN gave me everything I had hoped for.

“Calvary” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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CALVARY begins with one of the most unforgettable opening lines in recent memory (unrepeatable on this blog) and and takes it forward from there. We’re in contemporary Ireland, and Father James (Brendan Gleeson) receives a startling “confession” from one of his flock: said parishioner was sexually abused by a priest as a child, and even though the miscreant is long dead and Father James is “innocent,” the victim is going to make an example of the good priest by killing him in one week.

The metaphor couldn’t be more apparent (and check the title of the film if you think otherwise), but CALVARY isn’t nearly that simple-minded. Nor can it be taken as a straight-up suspense thriller or “whodunit”–Father James knows exactly who threatened him but chooses not to tell the viewer (or anyone else). Instead, he’s resolved to spend what may be his last week on earth ministering to his flock–as well as his grown daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) who’s recovering from a suicide attempt (James joined the priesthood well after the birth of his daughter and the subsequent death of his wife).

But as the days wear on, James is forced to consider what his role (as a priest and as a human being) actually means to anybody. Numerous residents of his coastal village line up dutifully as he dispenses the Sacrament, but not a one seems to have any use for him or his teachings–whether or not they feel like opening up to James, they make it clear that they’re going to proceed exactly as always with their adultery, domestic violence, drug abuse, compensation for sexual frustration, etc. And while some do offer James a modicum of sympathy and a kind word, those NOT in his flock (from the atheistic doctor to the Buddhist pubkeeper) treat him with unbridled contempt. His only real friends include a young boy first seen at work on a prophetic seascape… and M. Emmet Walsh. God bless M. Emmet Walsh just for BEING there and offering some relief from the intensity of this story–the effects of which will inevitably bring out the devil in Father James. Has he helped anybody at all?

If approached as a cut-and-dried story, CALVARY plays fair–in other words, you’ll find out who “did” it without any ambiguity or cheating (although one unpunished atrocity could have been committed by almost anybody in the movie). Nevertheless, it’s quite apparent that CALVARY isn’t here to provide answers so much as to ask questions. The themes run deep and dark, and when you’re dealing with a perfectly-chosen cast such as this and the powerful writing and direction of John Michael McDonagh (I must “confess” that I haven’t seen any of his previous work), then you’re dealing with one of the most provocative and challenging films you’re likely to see this year.

Talkin’ with Walter Olkewicz (Actor)

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In this episode, Walter Olkewicz discuss some of his acting roles, the Indiegogo Campaign to save his leg, and his amazing outlook on life…

Please donate to Walter’s campaign here:       https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-walter-save-his-leg-and-get-back-to-acting

 

“Guardians of the Galaxy” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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Well, the latest Marvel summer blockbuster is here, and I’ve heard almost nothing but great things about it–people all over the place are having a grand old time and proclaiming GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY one of the best ever. And… I’m very happy to see so many people enjoying themselves and I think it’s great that they’re being entertained so splendidly. Nor am I about to play killjoy here… don’t get me wrong–I DID enjoy the movie. Still, about it being the “next big thing” and that insurmountably awesome in my eyes? Well…

…in my eyes, what we have here is an enjoyable space adventure (not actually in the mold of Marvel’s “superhero” movies, comics-derived as it may be) which follows the STAR WARS pattern just as much as SW followed the serials of yore. New-fangled effects, a little modern “attitude,” the usual formula… I essentially saw it as a STAR WARS pastiche in which most of the heroes wanted to be Han Solo and one of them got pressured into being Luke Skywalker.

Everybody in the world seems to be seeing this one, so I’m going to skip the long, complicated setup of this particular galaxy, the rogues gallery and the mysterious “orb” that might as well be the one from THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR. Everyone wants the orb and/or the would-be legendary interstellar outlaw “Starlord” (Chris Pratt as Peter Quill).

Let’s start with him. He’s great fun to watch, but director James Gunn goes for the heartstrings much too soon–the opening sequence with the dying mother made me wonder if I was in the right theatre for a spell and it sets up an even MORE mawkish moment in the finale. Call me coldhearted if you will–it’s just going to roll off my back. I can completely understand the effectiveness of pathos as a character’s sad origins are revealed, but right off the bat this movie put me in the wrong chair, as it were. And there are plenty of crying jags to come later, fear not…

Anyhow. Starlord wants to be Solo, but you know he has to be Luke in the end–from the beginning. Usurping the Solo role is Rocket (yes, the hybrid who resembles a raccoon). A little goes a long way with him, but he’s still very entertaining, and voice artist Bradley Cooper gets a heck of a lot more to do than does Vin Diesel, who seems to be there for the value of his name on the poster alone… virtually ANYBODY could have voiced Rocket’s plant/muscle Groot (once again, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Groot fails to entertain–I’m just saying that the Chewbacca character MADE a household name out of Peter Mayhew–this movie scarcely needs to “make” Vin Diesel?).

Zoe Saldana is looking good in green as Gamora… sorry, almost called her “Princess” due to her apparent alliance with the villains (led in this opening installment–seriously, did you think this was going to be anything but open-ended?–by Lee Pace as the black-robed Ronan …of COURSE he plays him to the hilt)–is she really looking to betray her masters and will she fall hard for the 80’s charms (and Walkman) of Starlord? Tune in next week…

Michael Rooker doesn’t appear as one of the team on the poster art, but he’s got a terrific role as “frenemy” Yondu, on-again-off-again partner of Starlord who wants to track him down for bounty and/or the orb, but who ALSO wants to be Han Solo.

Yet for my money (and with the 3-D surcharge, that’s saying a lot: for the record the conversion was pretty good, but the only 3-D moment that really made a difference for me involved Groot dealing with multiple adversaries during the climax), the movie was pretty much stolen by Dave Bautista as the muscle-bound “Drax the Destroyer.” His deadpan lack of irony or comprehension of metaphor provides some of the best laughs (“Why would I put my finger on his throat?”) and his first chance to actually get his hands on the villainous Ronan leads to some of the better drama in the film, as well.

Meanwhile, John C. Reilly gets some good amusing moments here and there, while Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro are largely wasted in glorified cameos (but you WILL want to stay for the post-credits gag and of that I’ll say nothing further).

Okay–aside from my impatience with “tearjerker” material, do you sense any real complaining coming from me? Don’t let the fact that I don’t personally raise it to the “pantheon” stop you from enjoying it. (Look, I’m the guy who looked for more than formula as far back as BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS–I’m the one who said “Why does it always have to be the normal-looking Earth kid? Why not let the lizard-man save the day and blow John-Boy Walton out of the stratosphere instead?”) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a perfectly entertaining movie even if I DO recommend it for a matinee diversion above all.

“Lucy” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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I had no idea who Luc Besson was back in 1985 or so–I simply took the recommendation of a trusted friend that I ought to check the San Francisco arthouses for a French import by the name of SUBWAY. I did and was captivated by pretty much everything in the film–yes, it took a page from the phenomenally popular DIVA but it was completely its own experience. I saw the subtitled version at least twice on the big screen and later cringed when the dubbed version became the American video exclusive (they didn’t fix that for a VERY long time). It also took me a while to backtrack and catch up with Besson’s post-apocalyptic black-and-white debut LE DERNIER COMBAT. Still, SUBWAY was “my” discovery, so to speak, and by the time Besson struck international gold with THE BIG BLUE and LA FEMME NIKITA, I was already in the know. I also loved his underwater documentary ATLANTIS, and while THE PROFESSIONAL was terrific, there was no going back after seeing the original version of LEON.

After the success of THE FIFTH ELEMENT, things rather fell apart with THE MESSENGER, and while I enjoyed the occasional bright flash like ANGEL-A, Besson became far best known to us as an executive producer and occasional writer, giving us such franchises as THE TRANSPORTER and TAKEN. Meanwhile, his own work became completely unrecognizable (THE FAMILY).

Well, now Besson is back with LUCY, and the high-profile casting of Scarlett Johannson in the title role guarantees the film plenty of opening-weekend exposure at the very least. So now that Besson is back in the world of fantasy, what does he do with it?

You know from the previews that LUCY involves a young lady who inadvertently receives a powerful dose of a synthetic drug that has the power to increase one’s “cranial capacity”–that is, to unlock the entire vast potential of the human brain. Popular science has it that we only make 10% of the available combinations of neurons, whereas dolphins (and dolphins alone, so far) take it further. Besson’s script spells it out in greater detail and wisely uses Morgan Freeman as the voice of professorial authority and the person Lucy needs to seek out when she discovers what’s happening to her.

LUCY could easily have gone in the direction of a simple superhero adventure, but the film makes it clear that this is NOT necessarily something you would want to have happen to you, particularly when you learn that you’re not likely to survive (at least as you understand yourself to exist) more than twenty-four hours.

But I’d rather not spell out the details–I’m happy to report that the TV spots did NOT blow the entire movie (much as they seemed to). All you need to know is that Lucy is invested with this power completely against her will (not to mention inadvertently) as part of a global smuggling scheme into which she’s dragged by a lout of a boyfriend; and that mob lord Choi Min-Sik is on her trail from Taipei to Paris, hoping to reclaim what she has (and kill her, of course).

Now, as an action-adventure, LUCY delivers from scene one–the film is brutally efficient as Lucy makes good her escape and tries to accommodate her ever-expanding role in the universe… there’s no shortage of violent action, car chases and demonstrations of superhuman abilities, all state-of-the-art (though we were spared the inconvenience of a 3-D conversion–it’s just fine as it stands).

But Besson takes things so much further, traveling back in time as he does (both literally and metaphorically) to re-establish and expound upon the film-making identity he established back in the 80s… in addition to the slam-bang femme fatale (as in NIKITA), you have the fascination with nature (THE BIG BLUE, ATLANTIS) and the responsibilities inherent in life itself (THE FIFTH ELEMENT) as well as the bits of whimsy that made SUBWAY such a treat (the innocent bystander witnessing the car chase comes to mind)–and yes, the icing on the cake is that none other than Eric Serra is back in the composer’s chair.

LUCY goes everywhere and will drive some people to distraction with its refusal to simply play “superhero.” The science can, no doubt, be picked apart and shouted down should experts desire to do so… well, be my guest, because it doesn’t alter the wonders of science fiction in the least. LUCY is equally visionary and entertaining from beginning to end, and I think it’s Besson’s best work since LEON (yes, I quite liked THE FIFTH ELEMENT, but LUCY does not feature an appearance by Chris Tucker. Need I say more?).

And I think it’s safe to say that there won’t be a franchise in the making. LUCY stands alone and comes with my enthusiastic recommendation.

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