Archive for the ‘author Dennis Polifroni’ Category

by Dennis Polifroni

Most movie-goers see film as an exclusively visual medium.  We marvel at what’s splayed across the screen, particularly the fantastic, and we allow the visuals to transport us to places and times, both past and future, we will never experience or live to see.

So often we take sound for granted.  To most, it “just comes” along with everything that is shown up on the screen as it flickers past the light of a projector.  Because of this, often times the sonic landscapes that the filmmakers kill themselves to create to enhance the imagery is pushed to the side and never discussed when evaluating the greatness or the failures of a film.  Charlie Chaplin was a filmmaker that lived in a time when silent movies slipped into obscurity due to the advent of “talkies”, and when creating further chapters of the adventures of his most famous character, “The Little Tramp”, he realized that by still keeping him and his surroundings silent, and punctuating the visuals with key sound effects, he could jolt the audience in moments of high comedy or the most tender moments of pure pathos.  Chaplin was, by and large, a silent film director. However, knowing full well that he could not fight the onslaught that sound movies were mounting against his perfected form, he decided to make sound work for him in ways that other silent filmmakers didn’t and saw the death of their careers. Today, even though sound is still considered a given, the sound fields that movies use to help three-dimensionalize the visuals add to the experience, pull us into the experience of seeing movies almost as if we are stepping over the lower border of the screen and entering the world depicted.

Steven Spielberg and James Cameron are masters of using sound to their advantage.  Imagine what films like JURRASIC PARK or AVATAR would feel like if the stereophonic sound that envelopes us were only coming out of a single speaker directly behind the screen?  The music, voices and effects would all jumble into one annoying mish-mash of undescernable sound. Frankly, it wouldn’t make any sense, become annoying, and the filmmaker would be forced to choose what he felt was most important to hear in each specific sequence.

The beauty of John Krasinski’s horror/thriller, A QUIET PLACE, is that the visuals are secondary to the sounds that propel the story and individual sequences.  Sound, both delicately minute, or accidentally explosive, can mean the difference between living and dying. Frankly, I cannot recall a film, at least since I started writing about them (or since Francis Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION), that uses sound so effectively, so perfectly placed and timed, and so startlingly.

A QUIET PLACE plops the viewer in the near future, about two years from now (2020), and our planet has nervously settled after a destructive attack from an alien race from another planet.  The remaining survivors of the attack, strewn across states in small familial groups, go about their days scavenging canned food and medicine from abandoned stores and warehouses, fishing and tending to backyard crops.  We follow one of these families, the Abbott’s (two adults and their three children) as they quietly go about their daily routine in a ghost town that they used to call home. For an end-of-the-world chiller, these actions and depictions are nothing new.

Yet, as this all goes down, we notice something immediately unfamiliar (even for a horror film).

No one member of the family is wearing shoes or socks.

There are no boots, no sneakers, no stiletto heels a woman of class would wear out for a night on the town.  The children tip-toe down the aisles of a drug store placing canned goods and small boxes gently into their packs as their mother, Evelyn (the ever sensational Emily Blunt), delicately turns a bottle of pills so they don’t rattle in the slightest.  No one says a word, and they are all communicating with each other in sign language for the hearing impaired. Even the smallest and youngest of the Abbott clan, 4 year old Beau (the adorable Cade Woodward), talks to his sister in the exaggerated hands signs.

Whatever is out there, it becomes immediately and abundantly clear in these first few moments, bases its reactions, and actions, on sound.  Even the most minute tinkle or whisper can summon them and, as we will see in one of the most shocking and unexpected sequences of these first few moments, they come in lightning fast and furious.  These new conquerors are a flash of razor like talons and row after row of teeth.

You kinda gotta take your hat off to writer/director John Krasinski.

Nothing in his past as a film director could have possibly pointed to A QUIET PLACE.  Known mostly as an actor/director of comedy films, the mild-mannered Krasinski (as well as co-screenwriters Bryan Wood and Scott Black) is an avid lover and fan of silent cinema.  Upon reading an early draft of A QUIET PLACE (again, by Wood and Black), Krasinski went into discussions about creating a film that would resemble a modern version of those movies he loved.  The spec script, tightened by the director, relied on almost no spoken dialogue and, like Chaplin practiced in the early years of “talking pictures”, would present only the most necessary sound to raise tension, fear and, occasionally, a tender moment.  A QUIET PLACE uses it’s sonic aspects as way of communicating the dangers of this new world and the reasons behind each characters movements and personal/inner conflicts.


One sound that is always there is the background score.  Marco Beltrami’s boiling, stirring strings whip the careful movements of the performers into a frenzy of desperate action while simultaneously sending out a warning to the viewer that the dread is on the move and, most likely, quickly heading our way.  Beltrami’s score is one of the most effective compositions for a horror film I’ve had the intense pleasure of listening to (between my body jolts and verbal whimpering) since John Williams chugging piano motifs for the shark in Spielberg’s JAWS (1975) and Jerry Goldsmith’s demonic, gothic choir for THE OMEN (1976).  It’s a score that knows, perfectly, when to punctuate the frenetic tracking of an action sequence, and when to know how to slowly dissipate in a tender moment.

The film is a series of sequences that raise the prospects of danger involved with every move the characters make.  In the quiet moments, we see how the family prepares for the possibility of an attack, the lengths they go to to sound-proof their lives.  But, for all of the precautions they take, the screenplay throws monkey-wrentches into the narrative machinery that will have the audience wondering “if this or that happens, how will they survive?”

I have to admit, no set piece in A QUIET PLACE is without danger and, yet, I don’t think I was prepared, either mentally or physically, for the detail of Evelyn’s pregnancy.  The sheer hint that this woman is walking through this nightmare landscape with child (that will start screaming the moment of its birth) immediately puts the viewer on edge even when we find out that the birth won’t happen for some time.  Every turn she makes, every step down a flight of stairs, has the viewer holding on for dear life and Krasinski, with his ever roaming camera, and Charlotte Bruus Cristensen’s lightning fast editing, knows where to point our eyes in the life saving, delicate silence that may, or may not, house a demon.  Something as simple as an errant carpentry nail had me gasping for air as the camera passes it in a fleeting shot that, at the moment, might not seem ominous at all. But, that’s the genius of A QUIET PLACE. It’s a film that tells us to notice everything and take nothing for granted, that every sound we make is important for the characters survival and our movie-going sanity.  This film is a meticulously perfect foray into pressed upon desperation and ingenuity.

The performances are the icing on the cake.  Keeping largely silent throughout the film, the physicality of the performers becomes tantamount to telling the story.  Communication is given to us by expressive eyes and wild movement of the hands. A particular stand-out in the performing pool is 14 year old Millicent Simmonds.  This 14 year-old, deaf actress, playing the Abbott’s oldest daughter, a deaf-mute, almost single handedly conveys the familiarity the characters have with their dangerous and bizarre landscape.  She walks through the sets and locations of A QUIET PLACE with an authority that hints at a world that only she can truly survive in, and the emotions her lack of hearing robs her of. Her moments during the finale with Krasinski (perfect as the father desperately trying to teach his kids how to survive long after he’s gone) relay a kind of pent up release that says more without words, and much through tears and quivering lips, than reams of dialogue would have.  Simmonds is the performance heart and soul of A QUIET PLACE, and her presence is to remind us that perseverance and determination to live free, even under the most horrifying of situations, is a rite that no conqueror can take from us.

A QUIET PLACE unnerved me in the best possible ways.  It’s a superior film that brings its scares on us through the simplest of set ups.  It’s relentless, explosive, gut-wrenching horror that works because of the delicate humanity that lies at stake.  The Abbott’s are very real people that work and live and love together, to help each other and hope to keep safe, even when hope seems to be fleeting.

This one earns its body jolting scares and is a contemporary classic that is destined to frighten, and refrighten, generations of filmgoers to come.

One of the VERY BEST films of 2018.



(USA 90 mins) DVD/Blu Ray

p. Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller  d. John Krasinski w. Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski  e. Christopher Tellefsen photo. Charlotte Bruus Christensen m. Marco Beltrami

Emily Blunt (Evelyn), John Krasinski (Lee), Millicent Simmonds (Regan), Noah Jupe (Marcus), Cade Woodward (Beau), Leon Russom (man on the road)


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by Dennis Polifroni

“This is a true story.

The events depicted took place in Minnesota.

At the request of the survivors,

the names have been changed.

Out of respect for the dead,

the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”

Read it carefully.  It’s a trick.

This is not a TRUE story.  It’s not about real people or incidents.  It’s not about crime cases that are rotting away in browning, paper folders in a police department filing cabinet labeled: UNSOLVED.

The opening statement, that precedes every episode of FARGO, and the film that inspired it, is a brain twister. It’s a nifty play on words. What you see and hear after that bullshit statement IS a story. It a PURE story, no meaning behind it. It’s a PURE yarn. Hence, a TRUE story.

And, a great story at that.

Ok, I’ll confess.

FARGO isn’t as timely or as important as THE HANDMAIDS TAIL, there’s no message or parallel with the horrors going on in today’s world.  FARGO isn’t an entertaining history lesson, based on fact, and elegantly presented, like THE CROWN. FARGO doesn’t hone in on important domestic and philosophical topics buried in the entertainment like THE SOPRANOS or SIX FEET UNDER. (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

So many negative things have been said about the AMC flagship show, THE WALKING DEAD.

“It’s been on too long” (now moving into its 9th season).  “The show treads the same water again and again”. Finally, and most infamously, “what is all this about?”

As a fan of the show, who has stuck by each episode and season with unabashed loyalty, I can honestly say I can see and understand the gripes. I feel the complainers pains. However, in order to truthfully navigate the filmic adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s smash-hit comic book series, one has to look with better eyes.

On the surface, and this is the reason for its initial success for the first 6 seasons, THE WALKING DEAD is a tight, taught intense horror show about the end of the world as we know it by a plaque that turns the recently deceased into flesh eating zombies. Loaded with thrills and chills, and NOT too little gore and guts, the series presents itself as a thrill-ride chiller with characters we can relate to and care for. The story of Georgia cop Rick Grimes (the fantastic Andrew Lincoln), who awakes from a gun-shot induced coma to find the world dead in its tracks (shades of Danny Boyle’s marvelously creepy 28 DAYS LATER), and the people he bonds with on his quest to find his family and a safe home amid the deadly chaos, is the stuff of horror movie legend.

Characters that we love die, and are replaced by characters we will love as well. When one prospect for a home goes sour, Rick and his tribe move on to another.

I admit. Describing it this way, one would think the naysayers are right and the show can only suffer from repetition.

Ahhhhh. That’s where so many go wrong…

The beauty of Kirkman’s basic plot, and what is misconstrued as mind-numbing, repeated narrative structure, is that by keeping the basic outline simple the series writers are able to weave in intricate observations about democracy and how the conservative rule hits hysterical proportions in a time of crisis. It shows us how easily forms of racism flare in emergency mode and, most of all, how we take for granted the little things that will become luxury in a world turned into a graveyard.

On an artistic level, the repetition allows the technical crew and directors to play with the visual and sonic aspects of the series presentation so no single season looks or sounds like the other. THE WALKING DEAD is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the most visually daring and creative works of filmic art on the tube.


(2010-present AMC/Netflix Streaming, DVD/Blu-Ray)

p. Frank Darabont, Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert, Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple developed. Frank Darabont based on the comic by. Robert Kirkman w. Robert Kirkman, Frank Darabont, Scott Gimple, Angela Kang d. Frank Darabont, Ernest Dickerson, Phil Abraham, Guy Ferland, Michelle McClaren, Clark Johnson m. Bear McCreary photo. Ron Schmidt, David Boyd, David Tattersall e. Julius Ramsay, Hunter Via, Dan Liu

Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes), Chandler Riggs (Carl), Lennie James (Morgan), Steven Yuen (Glen), Norman Reedus (Daryl), Lauren Cohan (Maggie), Danai Gurira (Michonne), Melissa McBride (Carol), Sarah Callie (Lori), David Morrissey (The Governor), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Neeghan), Jon Bernthal (Shane), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), Micheal Rooker (Merle), Scott Wilson (Hershel)


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by Dennis Polifroni

Many years ago, my aunt died.  She had been suffering from an extremely aggressive form of cancer. She left behind a husband and two young children.  To call her passing a tragedy was to only walk into the funeral parlor for her wake. Family and friends were wailing in pain and grief over her death and, so often is the case, questions about why this death occurred ran rampant around the room.

Very surprisingly, my uncle, normally a very emotional man, was silent for most of the funeral.  He greeted each mourner with a hug, or a handshake, and a smile. For the life of me, and I was a wreck for much of the time involved, I was bowled over by this man’s grace and cement-like solidity.  His wife of many decades was laid out in a coffin like a jewelry display at a department store and, with all of the raw emotions splaying across the room, he didn’t budge, he didn’t cry, he didn’t scream out in despair.

On the third and final day of the wake, as the coffin was being closed in preparation for burial, I asked my uncle if he was ok?  He took my hand in a firm handshake and pulled me close for a hug. (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that, in the process, he does not become a monster.  And, if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

When considering Joe Penhall’s TV series, MINDHUNTER, and the books, by F.B.I. Behavioral Science groundbreaker John Douglas, that the show is adapted from, one has to wonder if that famed quote doesn’t loom heavily in the minds of both.

For Douglas, fighting against monsters became an everyday occurance.  For Penhall’s work, like Thomas Harris before him (he was the author of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), it was the fighting against said monsters that became the basis for obsession that can thrust the inquisitive intellectual into a pit of success that consumes them till it breaks them.

Hannibal Lector, the famed, cannibalistic psychiatrist, criminal mastermind of many of Harris’ books came from a very real place.  Though he is an amalgam of several different psychopathic maniacs that have plagued the United States over the past seven decades, the monsters that inspired his creation come from very real places that Douglas investigated during his tenure with the F. B. I.

In 1977, with the capture of David (“Son of Sam”) Berkowitz, Douglas (at the time, a fledgling investigator who grew tired of teaching the ins-and-outs of effective hostage negotiation) began to see unusual patterns in the modus-operandi of what were called “sequence” killers (Douglas is said to have changed that, and coined the term “serial killer”).  No two killers were alike, none were after the material gain that “traditional” killers (like “Baby-faced” Nelson, Al Capone or Jesse James) of the past were known for, and most were so good at covering their tracks that finding them was a pipe-dream at best.

MINDHUNTER shows us how Douglas (re-named Holden Ford for the show), green with inexperience, yet inspired by the prospects of doing something no one else ever had the gumption to attempt, broke into the thought processes of some of the worst maniacs roaming the cities and suburbs of America.  Through interviews with captured murderers, he was able to deduce how the killers on-the-loose may be planning the work of their “vocation” and, if correct, beat them to their finish lines.

You’re probably saying “we’ve seen this all before”, in the various screen adaptations of Harris’ best known works (Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER and Jonathan Demme’s multiple Oscar winning THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), and, in a way, we have.  However, one would be remiss in saying that Harris’ fictional accounts, on how the F.B.I. profiler begins to think like the killer he’s chasing, was the finite word on the subject. In reality, they rarely, if ever, think like the killer.  They do, always, look to the past for sameness. What one who has been caught did, might be the inspiration for one that is out there. The events and the procedures that MINDHUNTER depicts, unlike Harris’ works, is based on fact and, the facts are, like that abyss that Nietzsche wrote about, so obsessive that they can be a destroyer.

In the case of John Douglas (aka Holden Ford), the obsession comes when the mormon-like investigator is steered to an interview with infamous “co-ed killer, Edmund Kemper.  Kemper, 6 feet-8 inches tall, weighing in at almost 300 pounds, and in possession of a personality that would normally be likened to a kindly librarian, longs for an ear. He’s a talker.  He loves TV shows about criminal investigations and considers Joseph Wambaugh a hero. He’s forever proud of telling anyone that will listen about his evasion of capture (Kemper was so good at it that, upon having a nightmare in which he was embarrassed by being caught, decided to give himself up), his methods in luring women into his traps and the gruesome ways, and reasons, behind the killings and dismemberment.

From there, it’s Ford, reluctantly assisted by his partner, Bill Tench (played by Holt McCallany-in real life this was Robert K Ressler) and willingly enthused by Dr. Wendy Carr (played by Anna Torv and based on psychiatric forensic researcher, Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess), moving from one maniac to another, using Kemper’s base outline on what, ultimately, drives an individual to serial murder (it is, 99.9% of the time, matriarchal humiliation), that fuels the investigators hypothesis and makes him a star in the world of homicidal deduction.

The series brilliantly chronicles Douglas’ many trial and tribulations, his head-butting with a conservative system that thinks psychological profiling amounts to nothing but alot of lofty speculation, and many successful encounters with seemingly ordinary people that just so happen to be the monster that hides in the shadows of normalcy before tearing your larynx out with a screwdriver and a pair of ice-tongs and weighing you down in the shallow bed of a lake.

The series has the great advantage of having director David Fincher (SEVEN, ZODIAC,THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) helm the first and last two episodes of the season.  No virgin to the territory and themes of serial murder in his theatrical films, Fincher immediately informs the shows visual presentation with an assured hand for period recreation and juxtaposes it with the directors famously slick efficiency for montage and MTV style editing.  MINDHUNTER may be set in the past, but it’s look and sonic landscape are that of a modern filmmaker at the heights of his talent.

Even with all of this, in the end, it all comes down to three key people.

Joe Penhall’s superb writing informs us as it entertains and it’s a perfect balancing act between the history of a genre we don’t know all the facts about and the foundations of what the genre of horror films does so well.  Like Hitchcock, Penhall presents us with the monsters immediately, and then draws back to let us sit on pins and needles as we guess what those monsters will do next.

As Holden Ford, the milky innocence of Jonathan Groff (HBO’s gay drama: LOOKING) perfectly offsets the growing fascination and life altering obsession that Douglas endured before the facts of his investigative quest nearly left him psychologically devastated and physically paralyzed.

Yet, it’s the giant Cameron Britton (all 350 pounds and 7 feet of him), a serial killer Edmund Kemper, that defines the context of the series.  Not only a dead ringer for famed mass murderer, Britton’s performance suggests the deep cunning and humiliated feelings that are, usually, at war in a deeply disturbed murderers mind.  You see him, you listen to him and you LIKE him. He’s a poor guy turned ugly by systematic, parental abuse. We feel his pain. But, then you look past the enormous, thick-rimmed Woody-Allen style glasses, into Britton-as-Kemper’s eyes and we see a darkness.  It’s a chilling hole of psychopathy and a perfect performance of sly manipulation and honest admission. I’ll go on record now and say Britton will be the big winner in the Best Supporting Actor category come TV awards time. He is the abyss that Nietzsche spoke of and, I fear, the hole that Holden Ford may never climb out of.


(USA 2017-?) Netflix Streaming

P. Beth Kono, Charlize Theron, Joe Penhall, Cean Chaffin, Joshua Donen, David Fincher  d. David Fincher, Asif Kapadia, Tobias Lindholm, Andrew Douglas w. Joe Penhall, Erin levy, Jennifer Haley, Tobias Lindholm, Dominic Orlando, Ruby Rae Spiegel  developed. Joe Penhall based on. MINDHUNTER: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas, Mark Olshaker photo. Christopher Probst, Eric Messerschmidt  e. Kirk Baxter, Tyler Nelson, Byron Smith, David Fincher m. Jason Hill


Jonathan Groff (Holden Ford), Holt McCallany (Bill Tench), Anna Torv (Wendy Carr), Hannah Gross (Debbie Milford), Cotter Smith (Shepard), Stacey Roca (Nancy Tench), Joe Tuttle (Gregg Smith), Alex Morf (Mark Ocasek), Lena Olin (Annaliese Stillman)


Cameron Britton (Edmund Kemper), Sam Strike (Monty Rissel), Happy Anderson (Jerry Brudos), Jack Erdie (Richard Speck), Sonny Valicenti (Dennis Rader), Joseph Cross (Benjamin Barnwright), Marc Kudisch (Roger Wade), Micheal Park (Peter Dean)



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by Dennis Polifroni

When one considers how frightening the prospects of 8 years of the Trump administation can be, with repeals of existing bills and advancements made during Obama’s time as Commander-in-Chief, it’s a wonder why more people watching television aren’t talking about the parallels of Hulu/MGM’s amazing mini-series adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s revered, dystopian novel, THE HANDMAIDS TALE, and Trump’s wannabe world-dominating regime?

Atwood’s novel has always rung slightly prophetic since it was first read by an audience in 1985. However, the authors imaginings of a world gone mad under the power of a totalitarian theocracy, and the resulting oppression of women, non-whites and homosexuals thereof, has always been kept at arms length under the guise of “speculative” fiction because, certainly, something like this would only happen in a distant future as populations swelled to hysterical proportions and government, as we know it, couldn’t handle the overflow.

Adapted into a pretty effective little film in 1990 (starring the late Natasha Richardson in the title role), Atwood’s themes, and the horrors she imagined, seemed to lose some of their potency in a time when prosperity loomed ahead of us in the guise of Bill Clinton and his smiling positivity. Simply put, audiences agreed something like Atwoods vision COULD come true, but NOT in America, and certainly not with a leader as likeable as Mr. Clinton.

Well, now, we in the States are no longer under the watchful eye of a likeable leader. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama are gone from the White House and, now, this painstakingly faithful TV adaptation of Atwoods most celebrated and respected work is whalloping a wake-up call of a gut-punch on us with every brilliant and chilling episode.

What makes this mini-series so successful is the luxury of time. With ten one-hour episodes, Atwoods every description, character, situation and plot point gets the attention it deserves and a nightmare landscape is created before us. Like the novel, the enormity of the socio-political/religious extremism unfolds like a wilting rose. At first its a single, beautiful petal falling to the ground but, by the time the series truly hits its stride in the third, very stomach-knotting episode, the show takes on the guise of the entire flower gone ash black with decay. Frankly, and much of the shows success can be attributed to the watchful eye of head writer/series creator Bruce Miller, whose intent is to put EVERY word of Atwoods novel on the screen, I’ve rarely seen a novel-to-screen adaptation that is as concerned with creating its world as much as it is in espousing its message. In fact, its because of Miller’s meticulous eye for detail, particularly Atwood’s descriptive detail, that the world of this series is accepted by the viewer immediately and without question. There’s a sense of queasy realism in the suppositions and I can only guess that much of what is being splayed all over the papers since Trump and his thuggish cronies took the run for the big seat only inspired Miller to even greater heights of finite adaptation.

THE HANDMAIDS TALE is a chilling tale brought meticulously to life by all involved in the production. That, in and of itself, is rather chilling to comprehend.

Im sure Miller is proud of his accomplishment. I’m sure he’s thrilled with the high praise his sweat has brought him. I just wonder if his pleasure with the show is slightly tainted by the idea that what he’s portraying might be an inevitable result of stupidity and extremism that’s beginning to run rampant under the big orange orangutan sitting in the White House?


(2017 U.S.A. Hulu/DVD/Blu)

p. Bruce Miller, Warren Littlefield, Reed Morano, Daniel Wilson, Fran Sears, Ilene Chaiken, Margaret Atwood, Elisabeth Moss  developed. Bruce Miller  d. Reed Morano, Mike Barker, Floria Sigismondi, Kate Dennis, Kari Skogland.  w. Bruce Miller, Margaret Atwood, Leila Gerstein, Dorothy Fortenberry, Wendy Straker Hauser, Lynn Renee Maxcy, Kira Snyder, Eric Tuchman  based on the book by. Margaret Atwood  creative consult. Margaret Atwood  photo. Colin Watkinson   art. Julie Berghoff, Evan Webber, Sophie Neudorfer  m. Adam Taylor

Elisabeth Moss (June Osborne/Offred), Yvonne Strahovski (Serena Joy), Max Minghelka (Nick), Joseph Fiennes (Commander Fred Waterford), Anne Dowd (Aunt Lydia), Samira Wiley (Moira), Amanda Brugel (Rita), O. T. Fagbanele (Luke), Madeline Brewer (Janine/Offwarren) and Alexis Bledel (Emily/Offglen)


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by Dennis Polifroni

Let me just get this first statement out of the way and we can move on from here…

ALL IN THE FAMILY is, without question, the single most important TV series to come out of the United States, post 1966.

This one is not up for debate.  It’s not something we can mull over coffee, argue over drinks and cigarettes, or apologise for after really good sex.  The whole crux of Conservative American television programming was smashed, reshaped, re-invented and over-hauled when Norman Lear bravely presented his “little” situation comedy/drama that introduced us to the residents of 704 Hauser Street in Astoria, Queens (the exterior footage used on the show was actually taken in an area close to Jackson Heights, my current place of residence).  The people that occupied that address were people like you and me and they lived, laughed, hurt, bled and died the way we all do and, eventually, will.

Meeting the people that live at that address is like a mirror reflecting images of ourselves back at us.  They are us.  We ARE them.



“When I was a boy, I thought if I could turn a screw in my father’s head just 1/16th of an inch, one way or another, it might help him tell the difference between right and wrong.”

-Norman Lear, from his memoir: EVEN THIS I GET TO EXPERIENCE

In order to truly understand the impetus of ALL IN THE FAMILY you need to know quite a bit about the life of its creator and head writer, the most important and influential producer in television history: Norman Lear. (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

It was never truly about gangsters.  

There, I’ve said it.

THE SOPRANOS really isn’t, and never was, about the Italian Mafia inasmuch as the Mafia is simply a springboard device used to help coax the viewer into getting involved in the TRUE issues of life that plague every American household today.



A guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office.  He sits down and starts complaining about his kids grades at school, that his wife suspects him of infidelity and how his mother, a woman without any love in her heart, has poorly treated him and his siblings for decades.

I can see a crowd of TV producers snoring at those lines of description.  Wouldn’t you?  There are DOZENS of shows on TV that deal with EXACTLY the same issues and plot points.  Why, on earth, would any TV executive worth his weight in salt want to back a show about these same topics?

Now…  Let’s try again…

A guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office.  He sits down and starts complaining about his kids grades at school, that his wife suspects him of infidelity and how his mother, a woman without any love in her heart, has poorly treated him and his siblings for decades.  But, THIS man greased his kid’s teachers with a few thousand dollars to put his son on the honor role, his wife was given a stolen Mercedes as a diversion to keep her off the trail of his illicit fucking and he’s plotting to smother his mother with a pillow as payback for all the years of crass and cruel behavior.

Oh, and the man, without actually admitting it, has been recognized by the psychiatrist as the head of New Jersey’s Organized Crime faction.

Whoa!!!!!  You got MY ATTENTION!

THE SOPRANOS head-writer and creator, David Chase, was never really interested in the nitty-gritty of a mobster’s dirty deeds. He couldn’t care less about who got throttled or shot, stabbed or thrown into a wood-chipper.  What he WAS interested in was how the actions of a despicable killer informed and influenced his behavior at home and the lives and behavior of his immediate family.  THE SOPRANOS is about many things but, what it’s most about are the things we all deal with in our own lives and how the eccentric nature of a larger-than-life personality infects the family unit.  Chase used his love for a classic American cinematic genre, gangster movies, combined with his own personal knowledge of “guys like that”, that were part of his Italian/American up-bringing, and plopped the “Don” of New Jersey into the living room of Norman Rockwell’s U. S. A. and waited to see what would happen.


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by Dennis Polifroni

We all know the two of them by now.  Fox Mulder, Special Agent and care-taker of the the F.B.I.’s most embarrassing and confusing case studies, “THE X-FILES”, is a believer in everything that goes bump in the night and all those things that raised fingers pointed at the sky supposedly represent.  His sister was an abductee of a UFO kidnapping and he’s never been the same since he witnessed it happen.  He believes that “the truth is out there” somewhere and his fascination isn’t limited only to the possibility of flying saucers.

Dana Scully, on the other hand, is the skeptic.  A devout Catholic whose work as a medical doctor and psychologist have put her in the upper epsilon of agents trying to make a big splash in the bureau, she needs hard proof, on everything, to even remotely bend towards Mulders way of thinking.  She doesn’t believe in UFO’s, ghosts, little green men or Bigfoot, and that skepticism is tested in every episode of the series.


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by Dennis Polifroni

It all comes down to preference.

When a tried and true property takes on an over-haul, it’s natural for purists to bitch and buck at anything that doesn’t follow the rules by the book.  Sherlock Holmes purists are no different from those that have seen new incarnations of old favorites.  Sometimes the overhaul works (as with Barry Sonnenfeld’s ADDAM’S FAMILY movies) and some just never seem to catch on (as with the current guises this new slew of films has decided to paint onto Batman and Superman).  Yet, even with the naysayers ranting, there also comes a slew of viewers that jump at the offerings of something new, something different.

Whatever the case may be, there will be naysayers against Mark Gattis and Steven Moffat’s updated take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved sleuth, and the world he created around him.   Gone are the horses and carriages that toted the super detective and his assistant, the ever watchful Dr. Watson (a wonderfully toned down turn by comedian, Martin Freeman), from crime-scene to crime-scene.  Gone is the double billed hat that illustrations of Holmes, and every filmic incarnation of the character since, has seen him sport.  The time and place is no longer Victorian-age England.  The time and place is England, NOW! (more…)

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