Saturday Night Live: James Franco Third Time Lucky

Saturday Night Live: James Franco Third Time Lucky

Just when it seems that Saturday Night Live has been shooting comedy blanks this season, James Franco shows up for his third time hosting the show and luckily for fans of the show, this was one of the funniest episodes this year. This is one time that the makers of SNL got almost everything right. Franco’s monologue may not have been hysterically funny, but the addition of Seth Rogen guaranteed that the audience would get a charge out of seeing the two “BFFs” together for an impromptu riff on the Sony leak.

My Summer Vacation: Acting and Adventure

My Summer Vacation

The film I worked on this summer has now been made available for public viewing on Vimeo. It was filmed in July around Sidmouth, England with an intimate cast and crew. I worked with some brilliantly talented people and hopefully will work with them again. The experience was another life changer for me.

I had given up the idea of ever working in a profession that I’d been hooked on since my teen epiphany that this was the ideal occupation for me. When I reluctantly turned my back on it, I knew that I would never have the chance to prove that I still had the chops for this type of work. I was wrong about that, just as I’ve been wrong about many things in my life. One thing I think I’m right about is, I have always honestly believed that people are born to be actors, writers, directors, et al. I still do.

Just as there are people who have certain party tricks; like being able to imitate Christopher Walken or John Wayne after a couple of drinks, there are others who have a talent that they were born with. They enter the world as a sort of idiot savant. The ability; the talent, exists already. All they need is the opportunity to develop the skill required to polish and hone that innate talent. Like the joke goes, it takes practice to get to Carnegie  Hall.

My month of July 2013 (my summer vacation, if you will) was filled with excitement. Not only did I get to step in front of the camera for the first time in years, I also got to prove to myself that I had not lost the urge, or the ability, to act. It was still a part of me and though I’d turned my back on it, the creativity had not left me. Nor had the imagination needed to “pull it off.”

The end result was a project that I could take pride in. All because Natasha Harmer took a chance to use an old out-of-practice actor, who could have turned out to be  a ham or an actor who could not act. She writes a blog titled Films and Things, which was the name of the production company incidentally, and if you haven’t already, you should go check her out.

For those of you who want to see the film, Once Bitten, Twice Shy, just click on the link. Once you’ve seen it, drop by and let Natasha “Tash” know what you thought. Personally, I think that every single person attached to the film did a bang-em-up job, but I could be a little prejudiced.

My Summer Vacation
In Mandela House July, 2013

The second thing I did in July was to travel to South Africa to track down a couple of sources who’d turned our paper, the Las Vegas Guardian Express (guardianlv.com) onto the news that Nelson Mandela was no longer with us. Despite the huge smoke screen thrown up by the world’s press, based on news released from his children who have their own reasons for not acknowledging the great man’s passing, we received information that was disturbing and obscene. We’d been told by quite a few sources that the man was really gone.

I will not go into the story, you can follow the above link to see the articles written by myself and other journalists in the paper. I was chosen, at the last minute, to fly to the country and search for the truth. I have written about my experiences and will be adding more of what I learned about the country  in the paper itself.

I met people in Johannesburg who watched over me in this dangerous area of the world and treated me like a long lost family member. I travelled around the local areas, saw where the poor lived and the rich. I went to Pretoria visiting  the hospital where Madiba was interred.  I spoke to fellow journalists who were camped outside the hospital waiting for the next act in this tragedy to unfold.

This trip was another life changing event. It  made me realise that I was addicted to the adrenaline rush. The feeling of hyper-reality that comes with the territory of increased heart rate and focussed vision. Johannesburg emits a feeling of underlying danger, somewhat akin to working in the prison service when there is trouble brewing from certain elements. You are on edge and, seemingly, aware of everything going on. Afterward, you are exhausted by all of the hyper-awareness.

I have been incredibly lucky in the time following my near brush last year with the grim reaper. I have, in essence, rediscovered myself. I’ve learned that there are some things in me that will never change. The actor in my soul will never die and my yearning for adventure, aka adrenaline addiction, will always be a constant companion. I have also rediscovered my love of writing.

I’ve written about all the above mentioned  things before, but, I’ve been a bit lackadaisical with my blog of late. My  work for the paper has pretty much overtaken everything in my life at the moment. But I will remember to make time for my inner actor and will soon be preparing a showreel to see if anyone else would like to hire an old “not-so-out-of-practice actor again.

Until then, my summer vacation with its adventures in acting, world news, and dangerous surroundings will be in my memory book. If I close my eyes, I can see South Africa unfold before me just a vividly as the day I arrived. It is amazing that the end result of being so close to death has made me feel more alive than ever before.

I have been truly blessed by whoever, or whatever, is in charge. I thank all of you lovely people who take the time to follow my little blog and who leave comments or like my efforts. May you all find what makes you feel truly alive in your lifetime.

Michael SmithMy Summer Vacation

United Kingdom

18 October 2013

Seven Psychopaths (2012): Six Not Seven

7

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh Seven Psychopaths has a pretty hefty cast list; a wandering storyline and has six, not seven psycho’s in it. I only mention it because a third of the way through the film, it is somewhat obliquely mentioned.

The Cast:

Michael Pitt
Larry
Michael Stuhlbarg
Tommy
Sam Rockwell
Colin Farrell
Abbie Cornish
Kaya
Christopher Walken
Helena Mattsson
Blonde Lady
Linda Bright Clay
Myra
Harry Dean Stanton
Man in Hat
James Landry Hébert
Killer (as James Hébert)
Christopher Gehrman
Cellmate
Christian Barillas
Catholic Priest
Joseph Lyle Taylor
Al
Kevin Corrigan
Dennis
Woody Harrelson

Like I said the cast list is pretty damned impressive. And while I am not a huge Colin Farrell fan, I did enjoy his performance in this film.

Now, about the plot and the storyline; It is, at best, a little eclectic and esoteric. It follows the everyday interactions between Colin Farrell’s character who writes for a living. Marty’s best friend is Billy (Rockwell) who is a psychopath who kidnaps dogs to sell back to their owners with the aid of Hans (Walken).

Throughout the film there is a red hooded person who is “capping” mid level mafioso thugs and leaving a jack of cards on the bodies to show that they’ve been assassinated by the jack; presumably this “calling card” is sending some type of message.

Meanwhile back at the ranch,  Marty is struggling to write his latest screenplay about, seven psychopaths. But Marty doesn’t want this to be a standard blood, guts and gore shoot-em-up, he wants all his psycho’s to be pacifists.

bonnie

Woody Harrelson plays Charlie another psychopath who is a mafia kingpin and who just happens to be devoted to his shitzu, Bonnie. Of course Billy kidnaps Bonnie and the whole film’s violence level increases.

I can’t really reveal any more or I’ll be seriously spoiling a lot of the film. But I can honestly say that after watching it, I felt ambiguous about it. I couldn’t decide whether I liked it or not.

The film looks good. It amuses in parts and disturbs in others, but in neither instance does the film overwhelm or overly impress. My two favourite characters were Hans and Marty (which says a lot as I don’t really care for Farrell as I said before) but Rockwell as Billy did entertain…a little; which also says something as I adore Rockwell in almost everything I see him in.

I believe that this is one that I may have to watch a couple of times to see if I missed something. Because at the end of the film I was left feeling like I had missed something.

Either that, or, they left something out.

A 3 out of 5 stars just for the cast alone…and for the flare gun.

images

Welcome to the Jungle (2007): Warning this Film Can Cause Drowsiness

We stopped by Blockbuster’s today as they are having a “going out of business” sale of all their existing stock. Oddly enough they are also still renting movies. Also in the odd category is the fact that a lot of their “second-hand” games were more expensive than the same game new on the internet.

Still, some of their deals on Blu-ray pre-owned films were pretty hard to ignore and I picked up three. The most expensive of the lot was £3.85, not bad for a Blu-ray. One of the cheaper ones (£2.80) was Welcome to the Jungle, a horror film that sounded tantalizingly familiar.

I thought at first it was because the name of the film was the same as the comedy film with the Rock and Christopher Walken; a vastly superior film to the one I purchased today as it was at least funny.

Welcome to the Jungle was written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh who may be a bit more familiar to folks as a writer than director. Hensleigh wrote Jumanji and Die Hard with a Vengance as well as Armageddon. Unfortunately Welcome to the Jungle is not his finest work. In fact watching the film (for the second time) I devoutly wished that he’d left his pen at home instead of scripting this abysmal mess.

As I watched this slow-moving (treacle dripping from a cold bun moves faster than this film) story, I kept thinking that it seemed familiar but I really could not understand why. About halfway through the film, Meg tweeted me that she was pretty sure that we’d seen it before. She mentioned “white-painted” people who were stalking a couple on a river. I was at that point exactly in the film.

The second I read her tweet and saw the couple drifting down the river while being “menaced” by tribal cannibals who were painted white, it hit me with all the power of a wet slimy noodle; I had seen the bloody thing before. I can also tell you quite honestly that I was just as unimpressed then as I was with today’s second viewing.

The story centres around two young couples; two all American boys and two Australian girls. One couple, Colby and Mandi have been a couple for a while. Mandi invites an old friend from the land of Oz to come visit her on Fiji. Her mate, the oddly named Bijou, is not pleased to see what she’d planned as a “girlie” adventure turn her into a third wheel.

Colby hooks Bijou up with an American bartender named Mikey and as both of them are pretty much shallow carbon copies of each other, they hit it off. Mikey tells the others about a helicopter pilot who saw an old white guy in Papua New Guinea who he thinks might be Michael Rockefeller.

Michael Rockefeller went missing in that area in 1961. Rumours of his being adopted by one of the cannibal tribes in the area have been around for years. Colby decides they should find Michael and interview him, selling his story to the highest bidder. With an estimate of a million dollars as their starting point the couples go off in search of the missing Rockefeller.

This is another of those “found film” movies that has glutted the market since Blair Witch. I would go on record as saying that this is one of the worst found films to date. The first 55 minutes of the film are dull beyond belief. We get to see a lot of the group’s interaction with each other and very occasionally the locals.

The interaction with the locals is kept to a minimum mainly, it seems, because the company could not afford to pay the local extras enough money to talk. Only when the group of explorers attempt to cross the border do the local’s speak, but it is without the aid of subtitles. On one hand, not translating increases the unease of the group and us when one of the border guards yank Mikey out of the van and shoot an AK-47 over his head. On the other hand we don’t really care about Mikey or any of the others really so they could have translated anyway.

We get to see the disintegration of the social ties within this little group. As time and distance goes by, the two couples divide into a pushy couple and an anarchic couple. Presumably we are meant to side with the pushy group but again; we don’t care as neither couple consist of fully developed characters.

This film runs for 79 minutes and it is only in the last 24 minutes that anything really happens. It’s only after the two couples split up, Bijou and Mikey go off on their own with all the food and the map, that things start to pick up. Unfortunately even the “exciting” part of the film is pretty low-key and leisurely.

The case of the Blu-ray had the quote GUT WRENCHING and the phrase DON’T GET EATEN on it. It should have had a warning on the front that said, “Caution watching this film may cause drowsiness.” Definitely don’t pay one red cent for this film, either to purchase or rent it. Wait until it comes on Netflix or on HBO or some other film channel.

Even at the knock down price of £2.85 the cost is too high for the entertainment it does not deliver. In fact I think that people should be paid to watch this dross and the pay should be a lot more than what I spent on it.

It’s okay dear, it’s almost over…

Natalie Wood’s Death Certificate Changed…Finally

In her last film Brainstorm (1983)
In her last film Brainstorm (1983) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Actress Natalie Wood‘s death certificate has been amended to say her mysterious drowning in 1981 also involved “undetermined factors”.

So it’s only taken 31 years for authorities to act on legal statements that have been common knowledge for years. And amazingly, yes amazingly, Robert Wagner is NOT a suspect.

Wow. The wheels of justice certainly take a long time to turn around, don’t they?

I’ve read the statements, especially the statement give by the boat’s captain. Dennis Davern has admitted that he lied in 1981 when he gave his original statement to police. He new statement of the nights events prior to the ‘disappearance’ and then discovery of Natalie Wood sounds like a clear case of guilt on Wagner’s part.

Davern clearly believes that Wagner was instrumental in Natalie’s death. Davern wanted to radio authorities and set up a search of the area. Wagner denied him permission until it was too late. Criminal negligence it the term that springs immediately to my mind. It obviously crossed the ex-captain’s mind as well.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like Wagner (known as RJ to his friends). I’ve always liked his acting work and he is one of the few actors left who went through the old ‘studio system’ that gave us such stars as Rock Hudson and (yep you guessed it) Natalie Wood.

Natalie was a child actress who managed to continue her career as she outgrew the adolescent roles that she’d cut her teeth on. Wagner and Wood were a star crossed couple who would marry, divorce and marry again.

They both had their choice of any partner and both ‘played’ the field before they were married and then married other folks after their initial divorce. After they married the second time, things were not all right in Xanadu.

The night that Natalie Wood would lose her life in mysterious circumstances; she was on a break from her latest film, with co-star Christopher Walken. She made a big show of her affection of the then young Walken and Wagner didn’t like it. Blazing row after blazing row broke out through the entire evening.

Walken, to give him credit, appeared to distant himself from the distasteful arguments and has, so far, not had his name sullied by the evenings events.

I never thought once during the entire 31 years after her death that Wagner (RJ to his friends) was involved in any way with her drowning. Then I read the legal statements that had been made by not just the boats captain, but the Coast Guard officer who was involved with the body’s recovery.

I was stunned. This was beginning to read like a cover up of such huge proportions that would equal the Paul Bern ‘suicide’ and the William  Desmond Taylor‘s ‘suicide’ and other scandals of a previous century.

Hollywood has always been a city of ‘damage control.’ The studios learned their lesson well after the Fatty Arbuckle debacle. Even when the victim was the universally loved Natalie Wood the damage control mechanism started automatically when word of her disappearance and death surfaced.

Was the fact that Wood had almost completed her obligation to the film that she and Walken were working on outweigh the fact that Wagner had a hit television program that went out weekly and was generating large amounts of income for the studios?

Was Wagner considered more important in the whole scheme of things because he was still a big earner for tinsel town? Obviously the studio brass had already decided that Brainstorm (the film that she and Walken were working on) looked to be a stinker, therefore not much of a money maker.

Wagner by the very fact that he was a man, did not have the same problems that an aging actress faces when she reaches that certain age. Was he considered the best bet to cover up for and therefore continue to make money for the producers and studios?

Or was the ‘damage control’ mechanism so well oiled that it automatically started covering up what had really happened? More importantly, is it still doing that same job 31 years on.

I don’t think we will ever find out. I think the oligarchy is still so ‘in control’ of the publicity and information that is released to the peasants that make up their target demographic that the likelihood of the ‘real’ truth being revealed is very slim indeed. I also think that the real truth of what happened 31 years ago was lost in the time wasted forming a ‘real’ search for her instead of the farcical events that took place.

It could well be that Robert Wagner is innocent of any wrong doing. The police are certainly not shy in stating that as far as their concerned RJ isn’t a suspect. Walken is still refusing to talk the incident at all. But at least the cause of death has been amended and that may or may not help solve this mystery.

Sorry Natalie, I am afraid that it is a case of way too little, way too late.

English: Natalie Wood's star on the Hollywood ...
English: Natalie Wood’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Photo credit: Wikipedia)