THE CAPTAINS

THE CAPTAINS
Written and Directed by William Shatner
Available from Entertainment One


Reviewed by Marc Mason

On a personal quest to understand his life in relation to his work in playing Captain James Tiberius Kirk in multiple incarnations of STAR TREK, William Shatner flies across the world and sits down with the members of one of the most exclusive clubs in human history: actors who have assumed command of the captain’s chair on a TREK TV show or film. Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine all chat with the man who started it all, giving Shatner a look inside the minds of this small band of actors and granting him an insight about their choices and what they have in common.

THE CAPTAINS is an interesting film, if a slightly odd one. On the one hand, much of it is fascinating- Shatner picks interesting places to do his interviews, and it helps to relax his subjects. Mulgrew he meets up with on an empty stage on Broadway, while he beards Stewart in the den of his own home. Bakula catches up with Shatner at the beach. Amusingly, he initially meets Pine on a public street corner in front of Paramount Studios, challenging him to arm wrestle in front of passing crowds. Most of the time with Brooks is spent sitting at a piano, allowing DS9’s captain to free associate his interview in jazz fashion, tinkling away at the keyboard. It gives the film a look and feel that you don’t expect going into it, hooking the audience as well as the actors. Shatner also does a decent job of asking questions- the best part of the film, unquestionably, comes when he talks to each of them about the toll that acting in general and playing on TREK had on their families. Suffice it to say, none of them (save Pine, who didn’t face this line of inquiry) has joyous or happy things to share on this topic, reminding you of the personal toll that comes behind the scenes of producing entertainment.

The gist, as we get to the end of the film, is that Shatner still struggles with being known as Kirk and whether or not he should be embarrassed by it or embrace it. Through his talks with the others, you see his emotional landscape shifting, giving the movie a narrative through-line. It’s almost unnecessary- the pieces of the film and the interviews would hold up nicely without it. Nothing in this documentary is going to shake the world to its core- that’s what all of those TREK shows and movie have already done. But it does entertain and grant some insight, and that’s more than good enough.

SAUL RUBINEK

Saul Rubinek is one of those actors who make it easy to appreciate them. His long and varied career is marked by one quality project after another, and his presence in any film or TV show has always been an indicator for me that there will be something worth watching. I sat down with him at this year’s Comic-con in San Diego and we chatted about his extensive theatre background- including the play he has written which will be staged in London this fall- as well as about his work on Syfy’s WAREHOUSE 13, which has already been renewed for another season after only three episodes of this one had been aired. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk with him. (Hat tip to Brooke Unverferth for transcription work!)


MM: This is Marc Mason in the Comics Waiting Room and I am here with actor Saul Rubinek. Saul, we’re here today to talk about a lot of things.

SR: Okay!

MM : You’re obviously starring in WAREHOUSE 13 which has been SyFy’s biggest show –

SR: Yeah!

MM: But that is just a small part of the entirety of your career. You’re a theater guy, you got started as a theater guy, you’re from a theater family…

SR: And I’ve gone back to it. Yeah, my father was in Yiddish theater in Europe, after the war. He was a Holocaust survivor, I was born in a refugee camp where my father was doing theater with survivors as a way of…surviving… and trying to forget about the horror that had just happened. I grew up in theater in Canada. As a young actor I did 20 years on stage before I ever set foot in front of a camera, but I’ve just written a play that- I’ve gone full circle- I wrote a play called “Terrible Advice” which is a four character comedy that the great film director Frank Oz is going to direct. It’s his first play as a director. It’s going to be on at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London this fall and you can look it up at MenierChocolateFactory.com and it will tell you the dates and what’s happening with the show, so it’s a big deal for me.

MM: Is this the first time you’ve written a play?

SR: Yeah!

MM: Wow! That’s amazing! Is it something where you’re going to be able to go over and be involved?

SR: Yes. I’m going to be involved in the rehearsal process as the writer because it’s a brand new play, it’s a world premiere, and things change and you have to be on the spot if you can be and I’m going to be there.

MM: You said you’re involved with the casting process, are you feeling pretty good about that?

SR: Yeah, it’s all great.

MM: As a theater actor, you said you waited twenty years before you went in front of the camera…

SR: I didn’t wait. It just happened that way. I mean, I was in love with the theater and I didn’t decide to wait. I wasn’t interested in anything else but theater. And those opportunities in Ottawa and Toronto were not really available to me until my mid to late 20’s.

MM: Once you did step in front of the camera, what was that change like for you? What was that difference like for you, not having that audience, for instance?

SR: It was hugely different. First of all, I liked the change because a change can be as good as a rest, I guess. That cliché can be true- it was for me. I was doing CBC television, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which is kind of like the Canadian version of PBS. There were a lot of great filmmakers who were working for CBC in the 70’s. Uh, both from Quebec and from English Canada, and I had the great good fortune of learning the craft, of playing leading roles that I never might have gotten otherwise. So I wasn’t stepping into features, I was stepping into very interesting independent television roles, and with really unique artists that were working in Toronto in television in the 70’s. And just as the theater scene in Toronto was growing, the independent theater scene and the beginning of English Canadian theater, the phenomena that happened in the 20’s and 30’s in the United States was not really happening in Canada until the 60’s and 70’s. So English Canadian plays found their voice then, as I was growing up, as were the theaters that I helped to found, so that was a really great time. And the same thing was going on in English television and I was very fortunate before I went to New York as an actor- that was my training.

MM: Well, I was looking at your IMDB profile a couple of days ago, and what struck me is the variety there, the variety there. It’s not just one type of role, it’s not just one type of genre, you’ve covered the spectrum really well. Has that been something you’ve aimed for or is it something where directors see you and go, “I can fill him in in something and he’ll cover it”?

SR: Because I’m a stage actor and have to… my life was that world first. I don’t think that many actors can tell you that they choose their careers; your career really chooses you. We make a lot of different choices when we’re young, when we don’t have a mortgage or kids or bills to pay in the same way as you do when you’re older. I’m no longer number one; I have two kids, I’ve been married for 21 years, and I’ve made choices that have to do with the financial security of my family, and I have for quite a while. That said, I still have choices to make that are going to be, not in order to have the widest possible experience on my resume, but in order to work on the most interesting jobs with the most talented people that I can. We all try to do it. We all try to stretch ourselves. We all know that we have to do one for the Pope and one for yourself, you know? You have to do one, as Michelangelo said, you’ve got to one to pay the bills if you have to, and do one for your soul and hopefully it’s the same one. And right now, with WAREHOUSE 13, I’m doing one that happens to cover both areas because I enjoy it immensely and it’s paying the bills in a good way and I’m very grateful that the show has been accepted as it has by an audience. I’m proud of the show, so it’s a really nice thing to happen. But it’s only six months a year; I have six months a year to do other things and this show allows me the freedom to do that, and that’s what’s going on in my life. But I never, you know, set out to have this specific kind of career. I don’t really know many people who have done that. And all power to them, but most of us, writers I know, actors I know, singers, dancers, are in love with their work. The work that life has chosen them. And now it’s the struggle to be able to continue to pay the bills and do what you love, while, if you can. And very few people can generate their own work. I mean, I’ve tried to, I’ve written, I’ve directed for films, I’ve continued to try to generate – I always have been… I’ve been somebody who does not like to sit by the phone and wait for other people to give me a job. So that’s not been my life, I’ve been very proactive, helping found theaters in my youth and I got involved many different ways of, you know, “somebody’s got a barn, let’s put a play in it” kind of world. That kind of attitude, I guess. I always have. I never understand the actors that are thinking about they’re going to do this because this is what it’s going to give them, they’re going to do this because this is what they’re going to get, they’re going to get this out of it. I mean really, the truth is, it’s mostly, it’s gotta be about what you have to give others and everything else becomes a by-product. It’s very hard to hold onto that when you’ve got mortgages and bills to pay and tough times. No, I have never chosen to have a wide ranging career, it happened that way.

MM: One of the things when you’re developing a play you have that sort of lengthy period of time to create that character versus when you’re shooting a feature you may not have as much time. What about in television? How does the television process help you create that character?

SR: Well, we have lots of time, because don’t forget, between the pilot and the show getting picked up, months happen. The writers talk to us about the characters, we help create the characters in a way. Certainly I brought things to the character that they hadn’t anticipated, and embraced and were great about how they collaborated with me and were really generous and I’m fortunate that they were generous and I acknowledge that. So we got prep time. Now when you get scripts while we’re shooting, no. We don’t have a lot of time to prep them. But they know us. They know the characters we’re playing. We don’t really need all that much time.

MM: You know, I was watching the opening episode of Season 3 a couple of weeks back, and it really struck me that the show had fully found itself and found its shorthand. In the final scene, Mika comes back into the warehouse and there’s a moment where maybe they could have overwritten it and given you a full chunk of dialogue, but you just looked at her and said one word, “Good.”

SR: Yeah, yeah.

MM: And that said more than just about anything else than any other piece of dialogue.

SR: True. Yeah, it was great.

MM: Yeah, that was fantastic.

SR: Yeah, we’ve hit a stride.

MM: As you go forward with the character, what are you hopeful to see for Artie?

SR: I hope the writers continue to be in love with show as much as much as they are in love with their boss, Jack Kenney, who has really given them the freedom and direction that they are growing in as writers. That is the key. The key is the relationship between the network, the studio, and the writing room. That has to work. If it’s filled with fear, then, people don’t want to get fired, then you ain’t got, the audience ends up with pablum something that doesn’t stick out, that takes no chances, that resembles other things, so that nobody can be blamed for anything. We have a show where they have a lot of trust with each other, they’ve earned the trust. The audience has given them the currency with which that trust is earned and I want them to continue to take chances the way they have. I haven’t got any complaints in that department. So I don’t really feel the need to talk to them about I’d love to see it go in this direction or that direction. I am really pleasantly excited by their own inventions, you know, and I like putting my imagination up against what they’ve come up with and the marriage is a good one. I don’t want to fix anything that isn’t broken.

MM: Excellently put, sir. Thank you for your time. I’m really enjoying your work on the show.

SR: Thank you. Appreciate it.

AVRIL VS VAMPIRES: PART 3

Julie Plec Interview

By Avril Brown

The second annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo was host to many a comic celebrity in addition to a few movie and television stars as well, including one producer and two of the breakaway characters from one of prime time’s greatest shows on the tube today, ‘The Vampire Diaries.’

This brilliantly entertaining and addictive fantasy/drama television show is based on several novels of the same title written by L.J. Smith, first released in the early nineties. Now in the midst of its second season having met with colossal success, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ is dark, sexy, twisted and remarkably captivating. Vampires, werewolves, witches and teen angst, oh my!, ‘Vampire Diaries’ also has plenty of steamy scenes, cliffhanger endings and a penchant for killing off characters.

The brains behind much of the magic generated on the show, Julie Plec is the executive producer of ‘The Vampire Diaries.’ Here she talks about the series’ affinity for heart stopping episode endings, how Jon Gilbert needs to be punched and teases a bit about the future of some of the characters.

Check out ‘The Vampire Diaries’ on the CW Network, new episodes beginning again on Thursday, April 7th at 7PM CST!

AVRIL VS VAMPIRES: PART 2

Candice Accola Interview

By Avril Brown

The second annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo was host to many a comic celebrity in addition to a few movie and television stars as well, including one producer and two of the breakaway characters from one of prime time’s greatest shows on the tube today, ‘The Vampire Diaries.’

This brilliantly entertaining and addictive fantasy/drama television show is based on several novels of the same title written by L.J. Smith, first released in the early nineties. Now in the midst of its second season having met with colossal success, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ is dark, sexy, twisted and remarkably captivating. Vampires, werewolves, witches and teen angst, oh my!, ‘Vampire Diaries’ also has plenty of steamy scenes, cliffhanger endings and a penchant for killing off characters.

Candice Accola plays Caroline Forbes, daughter of the sheriff of Mystic Falls, and also former insensitive cheerleader and current vampire. Just as bubbly and energetic as she is on TV, Candice dishes about her reaction to her character’s metamorphosis into a vampire, the secrets behind a ‘biting’ scene, and some of her favorite movies and shows from the past.

Check out ‘The Vampire Diaries’ on the CW Network, new episodes beginning again on Thursday, April 7th at 7PM CST!

AVRIL VS VAMPIRES: PART 1

Michael Trevino Interview

By Avril Brown

The second annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo was host to many a comic celebrity in addition to a few movie and television stars as well, including one producer and two of the breakaway characters from one of prime time’s greatest shows on the tube today, ‘The Vampire Diaries.’

This brilliantly entertaining and addictive fantasy/drama television show is based on several novels of the same title written by L.J. Smith, first released in the early nineties. Now in the midst of its second season having met with colossal success, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ is dark, sexy, twisted and remarkably captivating. Vampires, werewolves, witches and teen angst, oh my!, ‘Vampire Diaries’ also has plenty of steamy scenes, cliffhanger endings and a penchant for killing off characters.

Michael Trevino plays Tyler Lockwood, son of the now deceased mayor of Mystic Falls, and also former jackass and current werewolf. Suave, polite and funny, Michael discusses his character’s transformation into a lunar-linked creature of legend, his hopes for Tyler’s future and how he first became interested in ‘The Vampire Diaries.’

Check out ‘The Vampire Diaries’ on the CW Network, new episodes beginning again on Thursday, April 7th at 7PM CST!

HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE: DOLLHOUSE SEASON 2

DOLLHOUSE: SEASON TWO (Blu-Ray)
Starring Eiiza Dushku
Available from Fox Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Jessica Blackshear

Oh, Dollhouse. It seemed like such a perfect plan, giving fan-favorite creator Joss Whedon a new Fox sci-fi series commitment after the much-lamented, clearly-misguided demise of Firefly. Joss gets what he wants, Fox makes nice with the fans, and genre icons Eliza Dushku and Tahmoh Penikett topline the gig. What could go wrong?

I’m honestly not sure if I can point to the exact moment when the show went off the rails. There were signs pretty early on, the most significant of these being the scrapped pilot episode that was later chopped up and used for parts throughout Season One. Personally, I found myself quite concerned by the fetching-but-ultimately-lifeless Dushku’s inability to play one role convincingly, much less deliver on the roulette wheel of personality that served as the show’s central storytelling device.

Still, a less-than-stellar lead actress can be overlooked if everything else is running smoothly; unfortunately, the ship was already taking on water by the beginning of the second (and final) season.

The series finale (“Epitaph Two: Return”) is the best of the offerings here, but even that’s not saying much. “Return” attempted to deliver on the promise of a big, over-arcing ‘future-shock’ story first glimpsed in the “Epitaph One” episode that Whedon cobbled together as a pyrrhic victory after successfully disputing the show’s original season order. There may have been a long-term plan for DOLLHOUSE, but it seems clear to this reviewer that the show’s creative brain trust should have concentrated far more on a creative and cohesive short-term plan.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the show is gorgeous and ably served by the Blu-Ray format. The set itself is short on extras, but that’s no surprise; this DOLLHOUSE is empty, and no amount of added gimmickry can change that.


MODERN TOSS

MODERN TOSS
Created by Jon Link and Mick Bunnage
Premiering Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Showing on IFC

MODERN TOSS was originally created by Jon Link and Mick Bunnage as a comic book back in 2003. The success of the comic eventually led to a pilot episode of an animated series for British TV, eventually spawning six wickedly odd episodes. And now the series is making its American debut as part of IFC’s “Automat” block of programming.

I suppose the best way to describe MODERN TOSS to an American audience would be to call it sort of a variety show meets SOUTH PARK. Each 22-minute episode is jam-packed with over ten cartoons and live-action shorts. They feature a variety of recurring characters and bits, including: Mr. Tourette (he paints signs that have just a bit too much truth in them); Alan (a misanthropic blob who hates his brother so much that he actively tries to destroy his property)’; Drive-by Abuser (who… well, he drives by things and people and verbally abuses them); Sneezeman (whose sneezes are so violent as to disrupt his life, set his girlfriend on fire, and more); and Barney (a man with anger issues that turn him into a large, red, rampaging monster. There are many others as well. But what catches your eye as you watch MODERN TOSS isn’t just the snark-heavy humor that Link and Bunnage have invested into their cartoon. It’s the underlying theme at most of the bits’ heart.

And that theme is: “People are complete assholes.”

I can’t remember watching anything in recent memory that evoked a more loathing response about humanity. Mr. Tourette’s signs strip away the veneer of polite society and label items bluntly. Hired to created a sign for a ski resort for wealthy drug addicts that need rehab, he chops down a forest and builds an edifice at the front displaying the words “Alpine Cunt Cabin.” (Just in time for an animated Pete Doherty to arrive, which was brilliant.) Alan is so disenfranchised by his family and friends that he lays a trap for them that causes their own work to collapse a telephone pole on their car. In a recurring segment called “Help Desk” (shot with live actors but dubbed voices), a stream if ignorant people call and visit help desks at the hospital emergency room and the local legal advice office asking for ways to assist in their own stupid slide into self-destruction. In “Illegal Alphabet”, letters roam the countryside trying to form naughty words, trying to do so one step ahead of a legal crackdown. Because after all, the phrase “git stack” could kill, right?

MODERN TOSS is about humor fueled by, and paying homage to, hate. On the surface, it’s good for laughs, and the writing and dialogue are wonderfully clever. It’s also amazing that they have accomplished what they did what a budget that looks to be about twelve dollars short of thirteen bucks. However, it isn’t for the faint of heart, easily offended, or those who have a strong belief in the goodness of humanity. Because its creators certainly make it clear that they don’t. I was good with that. Will you be?

Marc Mason

Got a region-free DVD player? Buy it at Amazon:

THE MIDDLEMAN PILOT EPISODE

THE MIDDLEMAN: PILOT EPISODE
Created and Written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Directed by Jeremiah Chechik
Airdate: June 16, 2008 on
ABC Family

Javier Grillo-Marxuach has an extensive background as a screenwriter and producer. His credits include SEAQUEST DSV, THE PRETENDER, CHARMED, THE DEAD ZONE, JAKE 2.0, LOST, and MEDIUM. But in the world of Hollywood, nothing is a given, no matter how good you might be. Javi discovered this many years back when he wrote a spec pilot called THE MIDDLEMAN that didn’t get off the ground. Undeterred, and encouraged by comics maestro Paul Dini, Grillo-Marxuach took the pilot to Viper Comics and turned it into a four-issue miniseries and graphic novel that became one of the biggest indy success stories of the year when it came out. Now, in a glorious bit of “full circle,” the book has been optioned by ABC Family and makes its debut on the home screen next month. The question is: how much of the pilot turned comic made it back into the actual pilot? And the answer is, much to my surprise, about 98%. It’s quite astonishing, really.

The basic story remains the same, of course. Wendy Watson, fresh out of art school, is working a temp job at a DNA splicing company when a nasty monster made up of human body parts escapes and threatens her life. Unfazed by that turn of events, she catches the eye of The Middleman when he arrives on the scene to take the monster down. At the end of her rope, she later finds herself offered the job of becoming his new sidekick, joining his crazy world of battling comic-book evil, bantering with his snarky robot secretary Ida, and keeping The Middleman from putting the moves on her roommate. And her first assignment involves a super-intelligent ape that wants to become a mobster.

What made THE MIDDLEMAN comic so glorious the first time I read it was its sense of fun and adventure; the characters had fun being who they were, and their dialogue was razor sharp and loaded with laughs. At that point, I think I somewhat assumed that perhaps those traits were embellished once the property made it to print, but this pilot episode shows that to be untrue; almost every single line of dialogue from the graphic novel appears here in this episode. At times that can be somewhat daunting, but it comes down to having actors who can pull it off. And Javier and his production team really got lucky- they cast the series very, very well.

As the center of the series, Natalie Morales as Wendy pretty much has to carry the entire enterprise on her shoulders and she proves capable from the first frame of film she appears in. She dryly funny, carries herself with a sort of “jaded” body language, and possesses the keen self-awareness of the absurdity of what happens to her life. She’s also quite adept at whipping through the large chunks of dialogue she’s given. As a somewhat unknown, she also doesn’t bring any baggage to the part, ultimately making her an inspired choice. She made this episode work for me, period.

The Middleman himself is played by Matt Keeslar, and he is an immediate perfect choice from the physical side of things- he’s a dead ringer for artist Les McClane’s take on the character. But early in the episode I had some doubts about him. In his first couple of scenes he seems uncomfortable with what he’s doing, and he struggles with the larger pieces of script he has to deliver, using an odd cadence. It took me a minute, but I realized that it sounded as if he was mimicking Brad Pitt’s mannerisms from the OCEAN’S films. However, as the episode progresses, he seems to become more comfortable and his performance becomes a bit more natural. He also develops some natural chemistry with Morales, making you believe these two really could become close friends and co-workers.

The direction by Chechik is solid, as he does his best to make the pilot look more expensive than it was. He uses a number of effective wide shots to set scene and take the eye away from details that a close-up might jar the viewer. And again, he gets good performances out of his actors, keeping the focus more on the characters than on the odd things that are happening to them.

What is missing or changed from the comic version generally comes down to budget, and nothing really alters the story or the humor, so it does no damage. I was entertained by the episode, as I have been by the three volumes of the graphic novel series, and I was pleased to see something that ages 10-70 could watch together and enjoy. The one real challenge (beyond the Nielsens) the series faces is maintaining the weird; we’re getting thirteen episodes of this wonderful nonsense. Should be a lot of fun to see if the creative team can pull it off.

Marc Mason