“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” (Film Review)


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By Shane M. Dallmann


First, allow me to set the stage–and NOT by recapping the first two movies.

I’m done with the BATTLE ROYALE argument. I’ve said my piece already, and in the case of this series, the “games” themselves are no longer a going concern. The story is completely different, and I’ll merely allow that the goings-on here are certainly more interesting than anything that happened in BR2.

Then there’s the “one book, two (or three) movies” thing. It was warranted for the HARRY POTTER finale because there really was that much to that book. I refused to sit through the last two TWILIGHT films because I wasn’t going to pay twice for the film experience of what I considered a truly LOUSY book. As for THE HUNGER GAMES? I’ve only read the first one, but the second movie more than held my interest (not to mention that it stood as an improvement over the original) and I wanted to see what happened next.

So. After being manipulated by friends and Capitol alike to represent something she wasn’t, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, of course) has now been forcibly recruited by the rebel faction (led by President Julianne Moore) to appear as a role model in THEIR image and star in propaganda films directed by former gamesmaster Philip Seymour Hoffman. Meanwhile, the Capitol has a hold of Katniss’s two-time partner Peeta and is presenting him as an emotional weapon for THEIR side.

That’s all good stuff, and the story itself continues to intrigue. However… my worst misgivings were realized as the new movie painfully stretched itself out to reach a halfway-point “climax.” As we already know that we’re not going to reach the crucial stakes until the story ITSELF readies itself to end, this half-MOCKINGJAY is bereft of suspense, urgency and energy, despite the perfectly fine and experienced cast. And as we lose the festivities of the Games, we simultaneously lose the colorful contrast between the two worlds, so almost every scene takes on the same shade of gray (which is only remarkable in the transformation of Elizabeth’s Banks’ Effie Trinket into an actual human being–deliberately painted to resemble a cancer survivor concealing a bald head under a tight scarf). There’s no “action” to speak of unless you count wartime bombings and mass shootings; and precious little humor (it’s an absolute breath of fresh air when Woody Harrelson finally makes his entrance) to lighten the load. Oh, okay, Stanley Tucci’s still good even as the somewhat subdued Capitol emcee, but Donald Sutherland only gets one genuinely effective bit near the “ending” (preventing himself from cackling out loud, thankfully).

The entire movie plays like a funeral, with pacing to match (did we really NEED the whole “Oh, no, she went to rescue the cat!” sequence, or was that just another way to pad this thing out?). Human remains, dirges, and, oh yes, crying. PLENTY of crying.

Yeah, I’ll show up next year to see how it all turns out. I have a feeling we’ll get an exciting wrap-up. Good cast. Good story. Possible compromises (I have no idea how much more Hoffman footage remains to be seen, but from what I heard, he did NOT complete his role before his sad demise). But since they just HAD to milk it, we’ve been sopped with this fitfully engaging slog until the real movie comes along. Perhaps when it’s all available, some unauthorized tinkerer will edit the two movies into a single breathless presentation and show the world how this could and should have been done.

“The Pyramid” (Film Review)


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By Shane M. Dallmann


When I saw the trailer for THE PYRAMID, I said “Wait a minute–didn’t we JUST SEE this when it was set in France and called AS ABOVE, SO BELOW?”

Not an unfair judgment at all… both films feature characters lost in a labyrinth which may contain a portal to “the other side,” and THE PYRAMID (the directorial debut of Alejandre Aja’s house writer Gregory Lavesseur) consists mostly (but NOT entirely) of “found footage.”

Even though I was less than thrilled with AS ABOVE, I went and saw THE PYRAMID anyway. It’s one more horror film for the extremely paltry 2014, and I felt sorry for it because it’s flopping quite badly. And yet those who DID see it placed it somewhere “above” ABOVE. And THE PYRAMID simply had to be better than OUIJA, which certainly didn’t deserve to ring out the year.

So before the movie even started, I saw the trailer for CHAPPIE, which immediately made me think “No disassemble! Number Five ALIVE!” What are the odds? THE PYRAMID proceeds to introduce a diminutive robo-cam named “Shorty” who even LOOKS like a little Johnny Five. When Shorty’s done ogling the body of Ashley Hinshaw (CHRONICLE) it gets to go into the mysterious three-sided pyramid recently unearthed in Egypt. See, the archaeologist, his daughter/protege (Hinshaw) and various documentary filmmaker types can’t go in–the political climate of 2013 makes it mandatory for the Americans to leave Egypt immediately. But they secretly send Shorty in to get some boffo recordings. And “something” removes Shorty from team contact. So everybody goes into the pyramid in order to… look. THEY say it in the movie. “Get Shorty” is NOT one of my jokes, okay? And their “high tension” (another joke?) lifeline snaps and they all get hopelessly lost.

As you can tell, you’re not going to get much in the way of originality here, but at least THE PYRAMID recognizes that–and as a result, at the very least it moves along at a more efficient clip than AS ABOVE. I liked it when the archaeologist ordered the camera turned off in the early going, essentially saying “Nobody wants to listen to all this exposition.” Then the camera comes back on when he’s done talking, and he says “I don’t want ANYONE talking about a “curse” or anything like that.” Then he slaps the back of his neck and curses a bug or something. REMEMBER THAT. It doesn’t ultimately MEAN one hell of a lot in the long run, but you’re supposed to REMEMBER THAT.

Long and short. Instead of personal guilt doing a SHINING number on the crew, this is more of a DESCENT deal in which nasty little jackal-cats try to make mincemeat out of the wanderers while the pyramid springs the occasional death-trap. There’s a decent payoff beast (when it’s not lingered on too long), some fun Egyptian mythology, a couple of very good jolts and a painfully hopeless attempt to liberate someone from a bed of spikes. I also appreciated the lack of “PG-13” inhibition and the character who simply says “Screw it. I’d rather face a monster” rather than drag things out even longer.

On the other hand, numerous setpieces DO get dragged out all the same, and I lost count of the ways this movie boldly reclaimed “Let’s get out of here!” as the biggest cinematic cliche of all time. “We need to find a way OUT! The history is fascinating, but shouldn’t we get OUT of here? We need to get OUT NOW!”

And I’ll say this much for AS ABOVE, SO BELOW in this context–it certainly did manage something at which THE PYRAMID fails utterly… it came up with a satisfying ENDING.

But THE PYRAMID didn’t bore me. So there’s that.

And to the delight of my wife (who inhabited the nearly deserted theatre with me), when the “secret door” swung open, it did so in such a fashion that there was no way I could respond with anything but…


So the year ends on a pleasant note.

Talkin’ with Scott Adsit (Thespian / “Baymax” / Filmmaker)


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In this episode, Scott Adsit and I discuss “Big Hero 6”, Bill Murray, Second City in Chicago, “Town and Country”, the nature of Improv and more…

Talkin’ with Ellen Burstyn (Thespian / Filmmaker)


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In this episode, I speak with Ellen Burstyn, whose legendary career has included roles in “The Last Picture Show”, “The Exorcist”, “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, and “Requiem for a Dream”.

Burstyn is currently in Christopher Nolan’s latest film Interstellar, playing an older version of Murph (also played by Jessica Chastain and Mackenzie Foy) in a short, but pivotal scene. You can listen to the full interview below…

Talkin’ with John Gallagher, Jr. (Thespian / Musician)


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In this episode, John Gallagher, Jr. and I discuss his musical/acting career, including what to expect from “The Newsroom” finale and more…

Talkin’ with Richard Stanley (Filmmaker)


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Film director Richard Stanley might be best known for the science fiction classic “Hardware”, and supernatural horror flick “Dust Devil”, but he’s also a well versed documentarian.

In this hour long podcast, Dirk van Sloten interviews Stanley about his documentaries “The Secret Glory”, “Voice of the Moon”, and “The White Darkness”, as well as his most recent documentary “The Otherworld”.

They also discuss whatever happened to Richard Stanley’s rendition of “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, the Hardware sequel “Ground Zero”, and more…


Talkin’ With Catherine E. Coulson (Thespian / Filmmaker)


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In this episode, Catherine E. Coulson and I discuss her stage career, “Eraserhead”, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, “Twin Peaks” and more…


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…