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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Not on Lifetime: 'Pray for the Wildcats'

I'm split on whether "Pray for the Wildcats" actually qualifies as a movie that could air on Lifetime or the Lifetime Movie network.

This 1970s made-for-TV nugget is crazy enough to generate the kind of Tweet-storm reserved for movies like "Girlfriend Killer" or "Sinister Minister." But...there's zero sex (at least none on camera), and the primary characters are all male. BUT...this wild thriller focuses on three relationships on the ropes and a psycho who is pulling the strings on the fate of the characters.

Admittedly, I've been dying to see this movie for a while and recently tracked it down on YouTube.
The cast is pure gold: Andy Griffith, William Shatner, Robert Reed, Marjoe Gortner and Angie Dickinson!

Griffith plays eccentric millionaire Sam Farragut, who owns a construction equipment company. He contracts an ad agency to develop a campaign for his organization. The creative team finds that it has its hands full with the loony Farragut.

He hates their ideas and decides they should have a wild weekend to bond. Farragut drags ad men Warren (Shatner), Paul (Reed) and Terry (Gortner) on a motorcycle ride through Mexico. These guys packed lightly for this trip but carry plenty of emotional baggage.

Warren is being fired by the agency and has health issues...oh, and he's having a fling with Paul's wife. Paul's marriage is falling apart, and Terry's girlfriend is unexpectedly pregnant. And they all are given leather jackets that read "Wildcats" adding to the weirdness of this sales venture.

None of these issues compares with the nightmare that awaits them on this trip with Farragut. The wealthy geezer is a risk taker, and these three suburbanites aren't exactly Evel Knievel material. Things really get out of control at a cantina when a drunken Farragut accosts a hippie girl. Her boyfriend tries to intervene and is beaten up by Farragut. That should have been a warning, but these sad sacks stick with their nutty host.

Farragut becomes even more out of control when he meets up with the hippy couple again. A fight ensues, and Farragut grabs an ax! Without offering spoilers, let's just say that the hippies aren't the winners in the in this confrontation. Terry doesn't tell his buddies what happened, but cops arrive and start asking questions. Warren figures out that screwball Farragut is up to no good and tries to figure out how to do the right thing.

There are numerous other plot twists, but definitely look for this movie. As mentioned, AWESOME cast. Where else can you see Captain Kirk, Mike Brady, Sheriff Taylor and Police Woman in action?

Griffith steals the show as the evil Farragut. Of course, he's no stranger to playing villains ("A Face in the Crowd") and devours his role as the psychopathic millionaire.

Shatner also shines as the washed up ad exec who is torn between his mistress and wife. With his oversized glasses and quiet disposition, his character Warren is personifies the term "milquetoast."

"Pray for the Wildcats" originally aired as an "ABC Movie of the Week" back in 1974. It is very dated and pretty tame compared to today's fare, but Griffith's wild performance is definitely makes it watchable. Highly recommended for fans of old school TV.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: 'The Wrong Crush'

The fireworks flew during the Fourth of July weekend premiere of "The Wrong Crush." This tale of revenge, obsession and murder debuted last night and was a perfect way to wind down a star-spangled weekend.

"The Wrong Crush" follows Amelia (Victoria Konefal), a teen queen track star with some heavy baggage. Although she is a model student and super athlete, Amelia harbors a dark past filled with alcoholism that may have contributed to the death of a friend. She's worked hard to get her life back in order, but her mom Tracy (Lesli Kay) hasn't forgotten her hellion ways. Tracy works at a nursing home with BFF Gwen (Vivica A. Fox -- also one of the film's producers), who provides a good sounding board for her parental woes. Rounding out this semi-happy circle of family and friends is boyfriend Scott (Pedro Correa).

On the periphery is creeper Jake (Ricardo Hoyos), a smooth talking new kid who sets his sights on Amelia. Someone else has their eyes on Amelia. She caught someone looking into her home and is being watched by a couple during track practice. It turns out the couple is Mr. and Mrs. Hessler (Jon Briddell and Meredith Thomas), the parents of a friend who was killed in a drunken car accident in which Amelia was involved.

So, everything is in play for a stalker-mystery focused on Amelia. Admittedly, these movies are a bit difficult to review without giving out key plot twists. Still, it's safe to say that Jake is up to no good, and Amelia isn't completely blind to his affections. Still, she seems to think the magic words "just friends" will keep him at bay. No dice! This guy has a stalker board with pics of Amelia, so he means business.

Amelia is definitely in trouble. Will mom and/or Scott come to the rescue? Will Mrs. Wheeler in the nursing home eat her vegetables? And will Jake's stalker wall continue to grow?? The sparks will fly again tomorrow, July 4, at 7 p.m. (CST).

"The Wrong Crush" definitely does a lot of things right, particularly developing solid characters to propel the story forward. Konefal offers an effective performance as a young lady doing all the right things but haunted by a bleak past. Hoyos is picture perfect as the psychotic stalker. He's somewhat understated as the obsessive nutcase, which works. The audience knows he's up to something, but Hoyo's sweet smile and easy going presence belies a much more sinister force. TV veteran Kay ("As the World Turns," "Bold and the Beautiful") is excellent as the mother who can't let go of the past and reluctant to trust her daughter. Konefal balances a unique chemistry with both Hoyos and Kay. With her male antagonist, she's both flirty yet uneasy. And with Kay, she's desperately trying to win back the mother she spurned.

At the helm is veteran "Wrong" director David DeCoteau ("The Wrong Child," "The Wrong Roommate"), who has collaborated with the talented Ms. Fox on a number of projects. He knows his way around TV thrillers and does a solid job of building suspense while focusing on the dramatic subplot of Amelia's past.

The fuse was lit last night, so if you missed this firecracker, put a few franks on the fire and get ready for another "Wrong" classic on LMN.

"The Wrong Crush": Directed by Davie DeCoteau; Starring Victoria Konefal as Amelia, Lesli Kay as Tracy, Vivica A. Fox as Gwen, Ricardo Hoyos as Jake, Pedro Correa as Scott, Reatha Gray as Mrs. Wheeler, Meredith Thomas as Mrs. Hessler, Jon Briddell as Mr. Hessler

8 Questions with Jeff Marchelletta of ‘Sinister Minister’

Lifetimers recently experienced religion gone wrong in “Sinister Minister.” This fact-based thriller premiered on Lifetime in May and has been in steady rotation on both Lifetime and the Lifetime Movie Network.

If you've been wanting to catch it, your prayers are answered. "Sinister Minister" steps back on the pulpit at 9 p.m. (CST), July 9 on Lifetime and again at 1 a.m. on July 10. 

Among its talented cast is Jeff Marchelletta, who plays John Wells. John is trying to win back ex-wife (Nikki Howard), who is being seduced by the evil Pastor D.J. (Ryan Patrick Shanahan).

During his relatively young career, Marchelletta has more than 40 film and television acting credits to his name – including appearances on popular TV series “Criminal Minds,” “Hannah Montana” and “Las Vegas.” The versatile Marchelletta also has appeared in Off-Broadway productions and applies his talents behind the scenes as a partner with Industry Standard Films (along with Cliff Broadway and Josh Mandel).

Marchelletta took time to participate in an e-interview with LM Mental to discuss “Sinister Minister” and his career.

LM Mental: You recently starred as John Wells, the dad/ex-husband in “Sinister Minister”. Do you have any interesting stories about the making of this film?

Jeff Marchelletta: One of the most interesting things about the film was that it was based on a true story. At first, I thought “Really, a pastor who is a serial wife killer?” After the premiere, I saw some online stories come out about the case that may have inspired the movie. According to the Los Angeles Times, Arthur Schirmer, a Pennsylvania man was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2008 death of his wife. The prosecutors dubbed him "the sinister minister." Then, CBS News reported that he was also found guilty to third-degree murder in the 1999 death of his first wife. He is serving life without parole in jail. Sadly, I’m not surprised in today’s world with ignorant dimwits hiding behind religion. There’s a line in the film where D.J., the pastor (played by the cool Ryan Shanahan) implies he gets away with everything because he’s a “holy man” and everyone believes him. I know there are bad eggs that use religion for their own agenda in every sector, but it makes me think of what’s going on in the middle east with ISIS and how a band of misled evil murderers hide behind man-written words. I believe in God and am a Christian, and go to a couple of really cool progressive churches in Los Angeles. Religious books like the Bible and Torah are beautiful with important historic stories that help teach us lessons. These books are inspired by God but written by man. Anything written by man is open to personal opinion, bias and interpretation. In today’s world, we as an “intelligent” species should all be able to understand that.

LM Mental: Was this your first Lifetime movie? Were you surprised at all of the Twitter activity during its premiere?
Marchelletta: Actually, it’s not my first Lifetime movie. I was recently in another titled “Forgotten Evil,” written and directed by Anthony C. Ferrante, who gained notoriety for the successful “Sharknado” franchise. So, Twitter was really buzzing for that premiere also.

Yes, I am surprised at all the Twitter activity for “Sinister Minister.” It’s exciting and a lot of fun. Jose Montesinos, the director of “Sinister Minister,” started a text thread with the cast. We were all joking around at first, then Nikki Howard (who’s plays the lead Trish) texted us all and said, “Hey, we are trending on Twitter!” I believe Twitter shows the Top 20 trends, so someone on the thread texted “We’re trending at 18!” Then another text “17!” Then “16!” “14!” “13!” “Trending at No. 12 now!” I don’t know which was more fun, the private text thread or trending on Twitter.  

LM Mental: What – or who – inspired you to become an actor?

Marchelletta: That’s a tough question because the inspiration has to keep coming for me. It’s a tough business, so as an artist you need ongoing inspiration. I see a lot of movies, plays and indie films, and am often inspired by filmmakers and other actors. I also find inspiration in class, a getaway trip, museums and more. You’d be surprised where you can find inspiration. You just need to be present and open to it.

My first inspirations, however, came from going to Broadway as a kid. I grew up just outside of New York City. My parents always took us on family trips to see Broadway shows during the holiday season. It was always so thrilling to me as a kid to sit and watch it all happen live. Magical. I still have vivid memories of it.

LM Mental: What have been some of your favorite projects?

I have several but I’ll pick a few. “Criminal Minds” on CBS was a favorite because I was guesting on a highly anticipated two-part season premiere. “Las Vegas” on NBC was also cool; I was guesting opposite Josh Duhamel, who is a great actor. Coincidently, I met him before in Larry Moss’ master scene study class. What was really great about the “Las Vegas” shoot was that the episode titled “Mothwoman” had a Comic-Con theme. That brings me to my next project “Ringers.”

“Ringers: Lord of the Fans,” is a feature-length documentary I produced that explores how “The Lord of the Rings” has influenced western popular culture for more than 50 years. It features interviews with Elijah Wood, Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin and others. It was narrated by Dominic Monaghan, and we spent three and a half years making it. I learned a ton about filmmaking on that project; it was like a crash course. It was tough at times, but it was a creative team that all listened, collaborated and respected each other. I’m still close with the crew today. Believe me when I say that does not happen on every project. “Ringers” ended up being a tremendous success for all of us. It received a lot of attention, good press, and we sold it to Sony Pictures for worldwide distribution. That was huge for me as it was the first project I ever produced.

LM Mental: What advice do you have for actors entering the industry?

Marchelletta: Work your ass off. Honestly, work hard and keep at it. Work on your craft, technique, your voice, yourself, take challenging classes with good teachers, read plays, do plays, see every film and play you can. It takes real commitment, serious effort and time. You may have to balance it with other work to earn money especially at first. That’s been a key word for me not only regarding the entertainment industry but also in my life - balance. When someone comes to LA to be an actor and says, “I’ll give it 2 years,” they are not in it for the right reasons. For a real creative person, a true artist, there is no time frame to stop. If you really have the soul of an artist then being creative is like breathing. You just need to do it and find a way to be creative in some form.  

LM Mental: Do you feel networks such as Lifetime offer indie filmmakers and actors a good outlet to spotlight their talents?

Marchelletta: Yes, I do. Lifetime and other cable networks are great outlets to get your work out there. Lifetime movies have gotten better over the years in my opinion. Some of their biopics are really good too. I’ve even recently seen some movies that premiered at Sundance play on Lifetime. As I mentioned, I’ve also produced some indie films. A few of them have kicked ass in the film festival circuit; getting great reviews and critical acclaim, winning some awards and getting good distribution. However, I suspect some will never reach as large an audience as say the two Lifetime movies I was recently a part of. I just learned that “Sinister Minister” premiered in the Top 25 rated shows at No. 15 as reported by TV By The Numbers. That’s a lot of eyes on that film and really good news!     

LM Mental: What's your next project?

Marchelletta: I have a few projects in the works. I shot a supporting role in “Union” written and directed by Whitney Hamilton which is currently in post-production. It’s the story of a woman who disguises herself as her dead brother to survive in the Confederate ranks during the Civil War. Whitney really put together a great project and team. It was shot in Alabama at some stellar and authentic locations, and the wardrobe and makeup crews really nailed it. I portray Doc Cobb, a Civil War era surgeon, who is in for a big surprise while tending to one of his patients. You can check out some info, pics and teasers here.  I have a cool role in “The White Orchid,” which was executive produced by the Estate of Humphrey Bogart that should be releasing soon. It’s the story of a shy investigator who assumes the identity of a small-town murder victim in order to solve her gruesome death. It stars Olivia Thirlby, John Carroll Lynch, Jennifer Beals and others. I portray Tony, San Francisco’s Hotel Rex bartender, who has some important clues for the film’s hero. Also, I worked on “Blindness,” an art-themed indie film. It was written and directed by Annette Cyr and will be at the 2017 Palm Springs International Shortfest June 20-26,2017. I portray Charles Lockridge, a high-end Gallery Dealer who is a bit of womanizer with a touch of faux sophistication. Check them out and support indie film if you can.

LM Mental: What would be your dream project?

Marchelletta: Besides being in one of Steven Spielberg’s next movies? Or, the next big sci-fi adventure thriller set in outer space?? I’d like be on a successful well-written TV series portraying a cool school guidance counselor or therapist. I know it sounds crazy but I’ve had that thought. I think it would be a great role and fit for me. Perhaps I wish I had someone like that to talk to when I was a teen. Lifetime maybe?