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Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Michael Massee Performances

Not too many people remember or could name a lot films in Michael Massee’s career, but to me he was always an electrifying, charismatic and often quite scary character actor accustomed to villains, tough guys and supernaturally malevolent roles throughout his varied career. With sad, cold eyes, gaunt frame and a voice that seemed to both annunciate clearly and blur mercurially with his mannerisms, he always stood out no matter the role. Here are my top ten personal favourite of his performances!

10. Leroux in Sahara

This African set war film is a remake of an old Humphrey Bogart picture and sees tank commander Jim Belushi leading troops through a desert gauntlet of fierce combat. It’s a serviceable TV movie and Michael steals scenes believably playing a French soldier who joins forces with them and turns on the charm even when things get tough.

9. Jacob Dawes in Criminal Minds

A vicious, manipulative serial killer who sits on death row giving everyone the crazy eyes, Jacob is not only responsible for murder but for corrupting an innocent woman and convincing her to join him in the atrocities. Michael makes this one episode arc count with sinister magnetism.

8. Casey Steele in CSI: NY

Casey is a mysterious and sadistic trucker who is transporting several kidnapped women in his rig across many state lines, likely for human trafficking. Michael gives him a sardonic edge and just the right amount of dark humour. When apprehended and in custody instead of talking he just curtly tells the cops: “If you gentlemen are done here I’d like to go to prison now.” That line delivery is note perfect.

7. D. Gibbons/Dyson Frost in FlashForward

This excellent and painfully short lived show saw the entire world experience a collective metaphysical phenomenon and try to deal with the aftermath as well as all the mysteries it brings about. Frost is one of those mysteries, an elusive scientist of dark proclivities out for nefarious ends and appearing here and there like an evil force of nature. Massee gets a solid arc here as basically the show’s main baddie and proves a force to be reckoned with.

6. Andy in David Lynch’s Lost Highway

Lynch’s trippy psychological shocker is chock full of fascinating personalities including Marilyn Manson, Gary Busey and a terrifying Robert Blake in his final acting role. Michael’s Andy is a sleazy socialite who hosts weird cult parties and, like most characters that Bill Pullman’s protagonist comes across, perpetually seems to be keeping some kinky secrets to go along with that unsettling pencil thin moustache.

5. Man In Massage Parlour Booth in David Fincher’s Seven

Another dark film full of interesting cameos, Michael plays clerk at essentially a brothel where one of the film’s central murder set pieces occurs. When asked cynically by Brad Pitt’s detective if he enjoys his work and likes what he has to watch happen there every day he replies “No, I don’t. But that’s life.” It’s a minuscule portion of dialogue but Michael gives it all the gravity, sorrow and resolute melancholy in the world.

4. Gustav Fiers/The Gentleman/Man In The Shadows in The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I’m not really familiar with Fiers as a villain in the comics but her he’s essentially a shadowy figure who manipulates Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) for unseen purposes and hovers over the events of these two films like a dark entity, actually ending up being the most effective antagonist in either entry, as most of the other efforts are pretty silly. Michael gives him a ghostly noirish vibe and gets the spotlight in the first film’s tantalizing post credits scene.

3. Lucius Belyakov in HBO’s Carnivale

This is a tricky role and it doesn’t belong entirely to him but he’s basically a Russian soldier who serves as avatar for darkness in this show’s complex, slowly revealed mythology. Michael doesn’t speak a word here (the role is later given the voice of Linda Hunt, of all people) but the sight of him spectrally hunting down a wild bear in a smoky battlefield is pretty haunting, as are the surreal dream sequences where he stares menacingly at his adversary Scudder (John Savage).

2. Isiah Haden in Revelations

This miniseries sees him play a maniacal prophet of doom heralding the apocalypse while a priest (Bill Pullman) and a nun (Natascha McElhone) investigate both his claims and his sanity. Michael often reined it in for quieter portraits of evil but he lets it fucking rip and goes absolutely ballistic here, all fire, brimstone and biblical fury. It’s also one of his largest roles in a career spent mostly in fringe supporting appearances.

1. Ira Gaines in 24

Gaines is a sterling badass psychopathic bastard and straight up my favourite villain that Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer has ever done battle with. He isn’t even a top tier baddie either, he’s one of the early season middle men that is clearly working for someone else (as is always tradition with 24) but there’s something about how cold, nasty and calibrated his operation is that sticks with you. He orders countless people killed and when one of his henchman asks where to bury one he hisses back “In the ground.” When Jack eventually corners and has the drop on him he calmly wishes him “good luck” and casually goes for his gun without hesitation. He was a beast of a villain played expertly by Michael and the show has never matched that level of icy malevolence since.

-Nate Hill

David Lynch’s Lost Highway

High beams pierce a nocturnal interstate as David Bowie’s ‘I’m Deranged’ eerily cuts through a still night and we realize that David Lynch’s Lost Highway isn’t going to be your average road trip, let alone overall viewing experience. This is a fuzzy, feverish portrait of a fractured mind attempting to make sense of extremely distressing circumstances that are both alienating and possibly self inflicted. Lynch is always keen on probing the murky cerebral waters which border on potentially paranormal occurrences, and the often frustrating line, or lack thereof, which is drawn in, around and between these two aspects. Psychological terror, ambiguous scenes that leave you scratching your head once you’ve caught your breath, identity crisis, elliptical narratives that leave us haunted and wanting more are all tools in his bag, ones he’s employed countless times throughout his monolithic career. Usually he implements that in an esoteric, earthy way, but there’s something cold, clinical and unsettlingly voyeuristic about this that somewhat separates it from a lot of other stuff he’s done. The term ‘Lynchian’ in itself has become its own genre, there’s no debating that anymore. It’s usually within this self made realm that he explores, but it’s almost like with this one he went in with a mindset to play around with a sordid, almost De Palma-esque style of genre, and then inject it with his trademark eerie weirdness, in this case to great effect.

Bill Pullman stars as jazz trumpet player Fred, spending his nights belting out unnerving solos in smoky clubs. Pullman is an all American prototype, seen in a lot of generic, regular Joe roles. Observing him venture into sketchy material is jarring and super effective (see his career best work in David’s daughter Jen Lynch’s Surveillance for an even better example of this). He and his gorgeous wife Alice (Patricia Arquette) wake up one ominous morning to discover a packaged video tape on their doorstep, the contents of which show someone breaking into their house and filming them while they sleep. They feel both horrified and violated, and call the police who prove to be just south of useful. From there things get terrifically weird. Fred attends a party where he meets the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) who plays a mean spirited magic trick on him that will have your skin crawling out the door. This was one of Blake’s last two roles before the unfortunate incident that cut his career painfully short, but he’s perfect for Lynch’s stable and eats up the frames he inhabits, a pasty faced ghoul with beady black jewel eyes and a piercing laugh that will stain your dreams. Before he knows it, Fred wakes up and is accused for his own wife’s murder, whisked away to a dank death row cell, plummeting the film into a new segment, Lynch’s way of letting us know this isn’t going to be an easy watch.

Fred wakes up sometime later… And isn’t Fred anymore. He’s a young dude with amnesia who’s been missing for a while, played by the edgy Balthazar Getty. It’s a stark narrative left turn, a stinging reminder that from there on in, we’re in for some nasty antics with no light at the end of the tunnel. Getty is released from prison, since he’s not Pullman who they arrested to begin with. From there he gets entangled in one hot mess involving a volatile gangster porno king (Robert Loggia), his seductive wife (also Patricia Arquette) and the ever present Mystery Man who lurks over both planes of the film’s narrative like a malicious puppeteer. I’m trying to be deliberately vague about the plot (lord knows Lynch did as well), both to not spoil any surprises for you, and partly because after many viewings, I’m still not sure exactly what it means for myself. It’s a great big clusterfuck of extremely disturbing sequences, surreal passages of auditory and visual madness and a frothing undercurrent of atmosphere that constantly pulls on your sleeve to remind you that something is terribly wrong, but never gives you the solace of telling you what that something is. Traumatic viewing to say the least.

Lynch assembles an extraterrestrial supporting cast including Michael Massee, Jack Nance, Natasha Gregson Warner, Marilyn Manson, Henry Rollins, Mink Stole, Jack Kehler, Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Pryor and the one and only Gary Busey (when Gary is one of the calmest, sanest people in your film you know you’ve driven off the cliff). Some highlights for me are anything to do with Blake’s paralyzing spectre of a character who is one of the best Lynch creations ever, Loggia intimidating an obnoxious driver is priceless and the closest the film gets to comedy, and the final twenty minutes where the lines of reality, fantasy and the jagged planes of perception within the characters minds collide, providing us with a creepy non-resolution, part of what makes the entire show so memorable and affecting. A classic that begs countless revisits before it can fully cast all aspects of its spell on you, and one of Lynch’s unsung best.

-Nate Hill

Comedic Wizard, Hollywood Warrior: An Interview with Walter Olkewicz by Kent Hill

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Growing up I was a huge sword & sorcery fan . . . still am. The older one gets, you find yourself using the phrase, “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” more and more. In the case of sword & sorcery it is all too clear why it is sad, in some ways, to reminisce. But I can’t fully transmit to you in words, just how much the show Wizards & Warriors was then, and would later become, an integral influence. It took something with reasonably defined staples and subverted them in the best possible way.

This was part of the reason the more recent effort, Your Highness, was such a dismal failure. I admit I was hopeful all the way up to until I finally set eyes on the picture. Yes, it dealt irreverently with the source influences. But, ultimately forgot what made them so glorious in the first place. While Wizards & Warriors, on the other hand,  was so ahead of its time it’s ridiculous. Subverted genre work is more prevalent today, but back then, it was a bold choice. I soaked it up, and it quickly became the stuff of which permeated my dreams, dominated my day-long make-believe adventures and of course was a the well from which I have many times gone back to with my own works like Deathmaster, Sword Dude, and the like.

So you can, possibly, only imagine the joyous moment when I finally was able to chat with Prince Greystone’s faithful vassal Marko, played by the supremely talented Walter Olkewicz .

In Walter’s tales from his illustrious career I uncovered the story of an effortless performer, a loyal friend, a devoted family man, and a true inspiration to all those who have the dream of being a player of many parts.

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His credits speak for themselves, and I found it most intriguing, that a man who has known such heights could remain, I believe, as he has ever been – the salt of the earth. Walter has though, of late, been suffering with medical issues. It is comforting to hear however, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Please do take a moment, if you can, to support his recovery, so that Walter can get back to doing what he does best. (Please follow this link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-walter-save-his-leg#/ )

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m proud to present, Walter Olkewicz.

 

The Raymond Benson Auteur Series: David Lynch Part II

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Raymond, Tim, and Frank finish their discussion about David Lynch’s filmography. They cover WILD AT HEART to TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN. Please visit Raymond’s website for more information on his latest novel and where to order it!

 

“I hate to admit this but I don’t understand this situation at all.” An appreciation of David Lynch’s impenetrable entertainment, Twin Peaks and all- by Josh Hains 

These days, when I watch anything David Lynch has filmed, be it Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, Inland Empire, or even his flawed yet hypnotic and deliciously crazy adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, I check my brain in at the door. I let my mind become invaded by the alluring sights and sounds that populate his stunning body of work, letting them burn themselves into the deepest parts of my soul. I don’t over think what I’m watching, and I don’t allow myself to obsess over such cerebral, intentionally puzzling works. Above all else, the images tend to stay with me like dirt under my fingernails, or a ghost lurking in an old house.

The point of Lynch’s life’s work is breaking convention, trying truly new things with the form, narratively or visually, that most people in the movie or television businesses will never think of in their lifetime. Ever. Taking cinematic standards we’ve become comfortable with and breaking them like a sledgehammer against concrete, dismantling what’s considered safe, easy, and profitable, his works always risky, provocative, difficult, and confounding. I find just about everything he’s made confounding to varying degrees, and just like any great puzzle, the necessary pieces to solving any given mystery in any of his works are always right there in plain sight, staring me right in the face, taunting me. I’m reminded of a quote from Christopher Nolan’s brilliant puzzler The Prestige: “Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.” Except that I don’t want to be fooled, at least not entirely.

I have a tendency to want to know what pieces go where and watch them all slowly fit together, though an equal part of me doesn’t want to completely kill the mystery, doesn’t mind the ambiguity and relishes in being challenged on such deeply psychological levels. The first time I saw his Mulholland Drive, I disliked it because I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I’d just witnessed. Nothing I’d seen made any amount of sense, or could easily be summed up in a quick sentence. It was impenetrable, and I hated it. A couple years ago I learned that the impenetrable, confusing, ambiguous nature of everything that is Lynch, is the point. Whether or not I can solve the puzzle of Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, or Twin Peaks, isn’t the point of those and most of David Lynch’s filmography. That’s never been the point. You’ll only drive yourself mad trying to solve something you aren’t meant to solve, or find yourself underwhelmed and ungrateful if you do somehow manage to decipher the code that solves the mystery and don’t like the results. The point is the journey, and just like any grand adventure, everything he’s made has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s not the destination that matters, but how we get there, and though the journeys Lynch takes us on between those points on the map is different from what we’re used to, in the end it’s actually a really good thing.

All great art should be more than just disturbing to the comfortable and comfortable to the disturbed. It should be challenging. It should make us think deeper than we’ve ever thought before and inite us to continue to think deeper. It should make us look at the art and ask why, make us take a deeper look inside ourselves and ponder why we didn’t think if it ourselves, and what we can do to be more creative and open minded. It should open a wide assortment of doors to all kinds of endless creative potentials and ideas, and challenge us to tackle subjects we’ve been too afraid and comfortable to explore. Twin Peaks: The Return, is this year’s prime example of taking the standards we’ve become so accustomed to, and breaking them for 18 episodes straight. 

I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around most of what happened this season on Twin Peaks, and though repeated viewings of Twin Peaks when the Blu-Ray arrives some months from now will surely unlock a few secrets and tie up some loose ends I didn’t immediately comprehend, I doubt I will ever be able to fully understand everything that happened over the course of The Return. I also don’t fully understand what the hell happens in Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, or Inland Empire, but that’s quite alright with me. I’m not supposed to understand the plots, I’m supposed to be swept up in everything else that’s going on. The acting, the symbolism, the trippy nightmarish images, the sudden graphic violence, the sensuous love stories, thunderous pulsating scores, the sublime aura of it all. Like I said before, it’s not the destintion that matters, but how you got there, and how I got there was a magnificent achievement. 

My biggest takeaways from Twin Peaks: The Return, as of right now because I’m still processing what I watched, are that David Lynch is perhaps the foremost essential artist of our times, and a truly brilliant one at that, willing to break rules and conventions for the sake of experimentation and trying to provide more sophisticated entertainment to us all. My other takeaway is that though the battle between good and evil in fiction or our reality never truly ends, as long as the world is occupied by Dale Cooper’s, the light stands a chance of winning.