March 31, 2011

An Appreciation of Some of My Favorite Actors

Jeff Bridges, Harry Dean Stanton, Christopher Walken and many other actors are finally getting their due, and they probably would've been on this list, but the 2000s and beyond have been largely a time of public and critical appreciation for these three actors in particular and for that I am very thankful as a fan of motion pictures.

When Frances McDormand won an Oscar for Fargo way back in 1996, I think many movie goers breathed a sigh of relief at the MPAA getting something right at least, where we the public often get it wrong. No one will ever wonder whether Tim Allen could have done more with the opportunities given him, no one will ever cite him and many, many others who grace the marquees, as unappreciated.

Some of the people on this list just didn’t live long enough to contribute according to the scale of their gifts and abilities. I felt I needed to recognize them too.

This isn't so much a list about actors who are just underrated in my opinion, so much as a look at certain talents in movies who just haven't, or didn't go as far as they could have. Thankfully for many, the shot clock is still running. Harrison Ford could easily have been on this list had he never been cast in Star Wars. Like Baseball's Cooperstown, so very little substance separates the deified icons of cinema from the remarkable talents who remain (for whatever reasons) outside the pantheon of lasting, inarguable superstardom. There is something heartbreaking for movie lovers about those actors who it is assumed are struggling to find work, or appearing in material beneath their prodigious talent, or have yet to reach their full potential... or tragically never will.

Everyone has their hall of underdogs past and present, and this is mine.


Elizabeth Shue (Could never act in enough movies to satisfy me.)

Bruce Campbell (If I'd been casting a Superman movie in 1990, Campbell would have been my choice for the lead... or a Batman movie for that matter.)

Robin Tunney,

Eric Bana (Just hasn't clicked yet with world audiences, but he's good in everything he's ever been in; especially his entertainingly overwrought and unrecognizable turn as a villain in the last Star Trek film by JJ Abrams.)

Aidan Quinn,

Rutger Hauer (The man whose performance carried Bladerunner deserved better, bigger projects.)

Emily Watson, (A walking, talking, breathing genius of an actor.)

Courtney B. Vance,

John Cazale (My favorite actor of all time.)

Brooke Adams,

Rufus Sewell,

Patrick Wilson,

Carla Gugino,

Michael Rosenbaum,

James Mason (Sure he was in great movies but he should have been in many more. Once he lost the role of James Bond to Sean Connery, his career took questionable turns.)

Dennis Christopher,

Andre Braugher,

Treat Williams,

Katrin Cartlidge,

Richard Jordan (Simply one of the finest actors this country has ever produced.)

Tim Roth,

Stephen McHattie,

Kyle Secor,

Giancarlo Esposito (Got his start in Taps with Sean Penn, Timothy Hutton, and Tom Cruise, then somehow, for some reason, didn’t become a leading man, a household name or big star.)

Franka Potente,

Andy Garcia,

Damian Lewis (Seriously, someone needs to do something about this guy soon, before he’s relegated to just Masterpiece Theatre in America, and only BBC mini-series programming in the UK.)

Adolph Caesar,

Keir Dullea,

Bill Nunn,

Jeff Daniels (In one of the most notable cases of one star replacing another altogether, Daniels had his career seemingly absorbed by that of Bill Pullman's.)

Michael Sarrazin,

Peter Weller,

John Savage,

Jean-Marc Barr (I'm still praying this guy will suddenly breakout somehow.)

Scott Grimes,

Terry O'Quinn (is just a great actor who has done incredible things with sometimes terrible scripts.)

Howard E. Rollins Jr. (I still think he died far too soon, as did a few others on this list.)


If a few of these names struck you as odd, or altogether unknown, search the IMDB website for their filmographies and you may understand their inclusion. If not? Post your own picks in the replies below.
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March 9, 2011


Norma Iglesias might have been one of the most fascinating people I have ever known in my entire life.

Norma was brilliantly determined, with an incendiary intellect. She was among the first adults I ever knew as a child who didn’t cast aspersions on people who were different, -not that she ever hesitated make fun of anyone or any particular thing, just that she had a deep and abiding respect for people that transcended her outsized sense of humor. Norma was a very cool lady to put it flatly. She was a gregarious Puerto Rican woman, hailing from a generation that fought greatly for an elusive acceptance and begrudged respect attained by few in the last decades of the 20th century.

People were always drawn to her; to her light and warmth and her explosive laughter. She collected life-long friends much in the way celestial stars collect planets, with a kind of unconscious, unaffected magnetism. I was always impressed with her because she didn’t lecture and pontificate as many intelligent people can’t resist doing, but always maintained a knowing posture and shared what she knew as an act of generosity and friendship. She prized intelligence and her values had an enormous effect on me as a child and later as an adolescent. She had hard set opinions about a great many things, as all of us do, and if you weren’t ready to hear the truth as she saw it, it was not going to be easy for you, but she never told people her thoughts as an act of unkindness. Norma once confided to me that she believed keeping a deeply held conviction or perspective to oneself was not only dishonest, but criminal among friends. She was confident in her relationships that way. She insisted that friends not be afraid to anger each other in service of the truth and that opinions should never be secrets, lest they become divisions. Norma also showed me one of the truest measures of wisdom: the ability to say you don’t know something. That particular aspect of her honesty is a quality that I encounter rarely in my professional life, as everyone pretends to be an expert on a vast array of subjects, approaches and technologies. Norma showed me that pretending to know something only convinces those around you of your insecurity, more importantly, Norma always reminded me that you cannot learn things that you don’t concede you need to know and Norma was all about getting on with life at all times: It showed in her professional life, it showed in the way she drove her car, it showed in the way she went to Orchard beach in the summer time.

Norma took me to see Star Wars in 1977 when I was nine, along with two of her lovely daughters only because she’d heard it was a groundbreaking motion picture. I’d always thought that we had a love of fantasy and genre pictures in common. She confessed to me, many years later when I was in college that she disliked Science Fiction, but that she couldn’t let that stop her from taking me to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Norma thought it was important that I see effects work and storytelling other than what was on Saturday morning television. The movies in her opinion, was where all the important work was being done, even if it meant sitting through Ridley Scott’s Alien with me.

She told me “You’re a smart, weird little kid. Don’t ever let anybody give you any shit for it.” And armed with that, I went forward in life at the age of 8. I worked towards becoming an artist. I worked towards becoming a writer. I worked towards becoming a filmmaker. I became a creative person, set largely on my way by her presence in my life.

Blood is thicker than water as the saying goes, but love possesses qualities beyond measure and definition and Norma was more than family to me. I am fortunate. I had plenty of opportunities across a lifetime to tell Norma just how much I loved her, and rarely missed an opportunity to do so, right up until last week when I spoke with her on the phone. It’s a great honor to be able to tell someone that you know just how special they are: I count that among the most important lessons she taught me among all that she gave me across a lifetime.

Norma Iglesias departs, leaving her daughters, her grandchildren and her many friends with much to talk about and remember for the rest of our days before we all move on to join her. For my part, I have to admit that the world is a smaller, duller place for her passing.

March 6, 2011

Another Ranking of the Top Twenty Horror Movies of All Time…

Lists and rankings have been an Internet staple since at least the early 1990s, always recognizing this and excluding that, to someone’s ire, -often mine. Every time I read a list of the “best all time” horror movies, I'm left wondering just how much more emotionally flat and indistinct (in terms of our aesthetics and tastes) we can become as a movie-going public in America. It's probably not a new complaint, but we don't seem to care that there is a difference between what aims at the visceral, physical, physiological and that which operates on emotional or psychological levels.

There is a big difference between Horror movies and Thrillers or even “Scary” pictures.

I use the word "Horror" in the sense that a motion picture inspires not only fear at the time of viewing but that it also creates a lasting lingering feeling of dread long after the film is over. I think it's easy to disgust people or make them flinch with gore and other superficial and temporary frights, but pictures that "haunt" us psychologically, that unnerve us emotionally are the true horror pictures in my opinion. I leave pictures like the Nightmare on Elm Street series out of my consideration because although they are among my favorite movies, outside of the momentary scares and revulsion they provide during viewing, they are closer to thrillers and action pictures in my opinion, and only cousins to a picture like The Shining. If I opened consideration to shock and gore pictures, clearly films by Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and others would be all over my list below, and believe me those are not omissions or oversights, -but a difference of classification. Some of my selections are almost bloodless productions, but as I've already said, gory and violent spectacles are not necessarily what determines a horror movie; if that were the case, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill pictures would be considered for inclusion, but they both fail entry by my criteria as would Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk 'til Dawn. They are all great, entertaining pictures to be sure, they simply lack a strong enough psychological component to underpin the explicit shock they provide.

Lists and rankings are all about starting arguments; so if I've left any of your favorites off, feel free to list them in response.

My Top Twenty Horror Movies of all Time are:

1) The Exorcist
2) The Omen (1976)
3) The Shining (1980)
4) The Sentinel
5) Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
6) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
7) The Blair Witch Project
8) Dawn of the Dead (2004 remake)
9) Evil Dead
10) Alien
11) Poltergeist
12) Rosemary's Baby
13) Gates of Hell (1980)
14) The Changeling (1980)
15) Quatermass and the Pit (1968)
16) The Innocents
17) The Wicker man (1973)
18) Salem's Lot (1979)
19) The Reincarnation of Peter Proud
20) The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

(I listed years only where I thought there might be confusion due to a remake, and it should be known that it absolutely killed me to exclude John Carpenter’s The Thing, as well as his Prince of Darkness: They would surely make my Top Twenty Five.)