Tag Archives: Jack Nicholson

T.G.I.F. – Ten From Arthur Penn

Arthur Penn died earlier this week. Although he wasn’t a prolific film director, his batting average was incredible, and his films were an accurate reflection of the mores and zeitgeist of their times. His most famous epic, Bonnie and Clyde, was not only a cultural phenomenon in the 70s, but the critical and popular success of its tone and style opened the doors for other landmark films that would revolutionize the film industry.

Penn got his start in television, directing live dramas for shows like Playhouse 90, and was also a very successful Broadway director, winning Tony Awards three times in a four-year span. His work included dynamic shows like Clifford Odetts’ Golden Boy and the original productions of Wait Until Dark and The Miracle Worker.

But although he received three Academy Award nominations for Best Director, he never took home the statuette for his film work. No matter – his impact was huge. Despite a short filmography, he worked with all of the greatest actors of his time – Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty – and was adept at extracting eclectic performances from them. Ironically, he hated method acting, although he worked often with some of its biggest practicioners.

Arthur was often mistakenly identified as the father of the successful Penn brothers – actors Sean and Christopher and musician Michael; their father Leo was also in the industry but no relation.

So in tribute to Arthur , I give you Ten From Arthur Penn. These are his ten best films – also his first ten films – and I suggest those you haven’t seen go on your “must see” list. And if the independent film era of the 60s and 70s  interests you, I highly suggest you grab a copy of the fascinating documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

01. The Left Handed Gun (1958) – Newman as Billy The Kid, an underrated Western with some great performances.

02. The Miracle Worker (1962) – Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in the award-winning smash

03. Mickey One (1965) – An underknown classic with Beatty as a nightclub comic fleeing the mob. Sadly not on DVD yet.

04. The Chase (1966) – An amazing cast in an oddball combination of a Southern melodrama and an action film, scripted by Horton Foote and Lillian Hellman.Trainwreck great.

05. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – One of the best films ever made, period.

06. Alice’s Restaurant (1969) – Arlo Guthrie’s song took up an album side and Penn made it into a counterculture classic.

07. Little Big Man (1970) – The oddest history lesson ever and a great anti-Western; Forrest Gump stole the concept.

08. Night Moves (1975) – One of the dozens of reasons that Gene Hackman might just be the best of his generation.

09. The Missouri Breaks (1976) – At this point directors let Brando do what he wanted just to get him in the film; he was rarely odder than this one.

10. Four Friends (1981) – Craig Wasson leads a lesser known cast in one of the better films made about growing up in the turbulent 60s. Written by Steve Tesich, who gave us another coming-of-age classic in Breaking Away.

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Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to Red Skelton. A great clown and entertainer who brought much joy in my childhood. I’m sure you no longer have to close with “and may God Bless“, since that’s a moot point where you undoubtedly are now.

Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela. A small payback for your years of incarceration, but first the World Cup; now your countryman wins the British Open on your birthday. And three words: Morgan Freeman’s voice.

Happy Birthday, Hunter S. Thompson. Thanks for the wonderful essays and books, for writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in time for me to read it when I needed it, for living a lifestyle that makes Jack Nicholson’s look suburban and docile. Plus you went out with a bang.

Happy Birthday, Dion DiMucci. I still get chills listening to “The Wanderer” or “Abraham, Martin and John” and your duet with Christine Ohlman on her new album is tremendous. Keep playing, sir!

Happy Birthday, Ian Stewart. I don’t know how anyone gets screwed over as badly as you did and still remains supportive of those friends, but in my mind you will always be an official member of The Rolling Stones.

And Happy Birthday to unlucky gangster Machine Gun Kelly (because this was also the day he was killed – some party that must have been!). And speaking of running afoul of the authorities and suffering the consequences – and no, that was not the original title of “I Fought The Law” – Bobby Fuller was killed on this day in 1966. I don’t think it was the law that he fought that night, nor do I think he killed himself (really – who drinks gasoline?)

Today also marks forty-one years since Chappaquiddick ended one person’s life and another person’s Presidential aspirations, but both people who knew the truth are now gone forever.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten from Cop Land

While spinning the TV dial last night I stumbled across Cop Land, and as I always do when this happens, I stopped searching and settled in to watch. I’ve seen it a dozen times, I know exactly what’s going to happen, but any movie with this cast is worth watching again regardless. While there are plot points that are a bit preposterous, several of the actors in the film give understated performances, especially Sylvester Stallone…although there is (Robert DeNiro) a wee bit (Ray Liotta) of scenery chewing going on.

Watch the trailer for Cop Land.

Frankly, Stallone’s portrayal of Freddy Heflin might be the best work Sly has ever done, especially considering the caliber of actors he’s playing against and with. Heflin is a guy who life has left behind; a hangdog middle-aged Sheriff who has given up on success and just wants to get through the day without any problems. Ironically, a moment of actual heroism left him deaf in one ear and cost hin a chance at the NYPD and the girl whose life he saved. There’s a quiet scene between Sly and Annabella Sciorra as the girl who got away where she asks him why he never got married; the pain and heartbreak in his expression is the antithesis of one of his Rambo grunt-fests.

James Mangold wrote and directed this gem, in which you’ll spot half the cast of The Sopranos as well as other familiar faces, including Paul Calderon, Frank Vincent, Tony Sirico, Bruce Altman, John Ventimiglia, Debbie Harry, Malik Yorba and even Method Man!

So many of the people in this film are known for iconic characters from television and/or movies, but they also have some gems that might not be as well-known. So today I thought I’d pick ten Cop Land cast members and offer a viewing tip for each. And, of course, see this movie.

* Harvey Keitel in The Border, as Jack Nicholson‘s corrupt partner. A forgotten gem for both actors.

* Robert Patrick in The Sopranos, in a short but memorable arc as gambling addict who gets in over his head.

* Ray Liotta in Phoenix, playing a cop with a gambling problem who tries to take the easy way out.

* Peter Berg in The Last Seduction, as the ultimate tool of Linda Fiorentino (not that I blame him!)

* Annabella Sciorra in Whispers in the Dark. Not great, but a decent suspense flick with twists and turns and a shocking performance from Alan Alda.

* John Spencer in Presumed Innocent, as a Detective who tries to help Harrison Ford out of a jam. Also one of Ford’s best roles.

* Michael Rappaport in Kiss of Death, where he plays David Caruso‘s slimy weasel of a cousin.

* Cathy Moriarity in Soapdish. An underrated movie with a great cast and her comic performance is a standout.

* Noah Emmerich in The Truman Show. Everyone remembers Jim Carrey and Ed Harris but often forget Emmerich as Truman’s “best friend”.

* Edie Falco in Sunshine State, sadly one of John Sayles’ lesser known pictures but a great character study.

(I think you can research that DeNiro guy on your own.)

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T.G.I.F. – Ten More Impressions

 

Matt Damon as  Matthew McConaughey.

A contestant on Next Big Thing nailing  Al Pacino.

Joe Alaskey as Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Don Knotts, Alfred Hitchcock, Walter Brennan and Peter Lorre.

Barry Mitchell does Woody Allen.

Another mystery guy channeling  Christopher Walken, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson.

Jim Carrey as David Caruso in CSI Miami.

Dre Parker doing Dave Chappelle, Bernie Mac and Damon Wayans.

Another anonymous YouTuber imitating Gilbert Gottfried.

Ray Ray in a skit as Regis Philbin and Owen Wilson.

Rob Magnotti as Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, Michael Richards, Bill Cosby, Dudley Moore, Paulie Walnuts, Nicolas Cage, Al Pacino and John Travolta.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Trailers of Terror

 

Screaming woman

The Exorcist trailer – Saw this in a college class and then had to walk home across campus in dense fog. Didn’t sleep a wink that night, nor did most of my friends. Yes, it was a Jesuit college.

Halloween trailer – I saw this screened at a NACA convention in a small classroom with about twenty people. At a critical point in the movie – when you could hear a pin drop – the guy next to me goosed the girl in front of him and she rocketed skyward with a bloodcurdling scream, which made most of us soil ourselves. Then a walk back across a foggy campus where the film distributor hired a Michael Meyers lookalike to drop from a tree. (I’m still washing that pair of shorts.)

The Blair Witch Project trailer – The very last scene makes no sense if you didn’t pay close attention in the beginning. If you did pay attention, it will scare the shit out of you. Kudos to the creators who took a shoestring budget and made one of the best viral movies ever, with special thanks for making that scary ending so subtle. Hope the creators of Paranormal Activity are slipping these guys a few bucks. 

House on Haunted Hill trailer – Where I grew up in NYC there was an afternoon matinee called Million Dollar Movie that aired from around 4:30 until 6:00. Occasionally they would show the same film Monday through Friday. I remember watching this film every day for five straight days and still jumping ten feet in the air every time scene with the “floating woman” came by…god, that still creeps me out! Starring Vincent Price at his smarmiest and featuring the always willing to chew scenery Elisha Cook, Jr. They have remade this movie several times but nothing touches the original.

Session 9 trailer – Contemporary horror movies are mostly gorefests. This was a thinking person’s movie, where the horror was deeper than any axe blade could cut. I thought David Caruso might even have resurrected his film career with this one, but I guess I was wrong. Subtle and pensive but very, very creepy.

The Shining trailer – Ever watched someone go insane right before your eyes? (Married people, step back.) Jack Nicholson channeling palpable dread… tempered only by the fact that I wanted to kill Shelley Duvall myself. Redrum!

Psycho trailer – Alfred Hitchcock’s movie trailers are better than some people’s movies. The screeching score was as much a part of the fright as the visuals. A landmark classic.

Rosemary’s Baby trailer – The scariest films are sometimes the ones with the most plausible characters (apart from the whole Satanic thing, of course). What brilliance to cast condo dwellers as the evil ones? Conspiratorial horror. I never looked at Ruth Gordon the same way again (even in Harold and Maude I wondered if she would snap Bud Cort‘s neck and eat him).

Night of the Living Dead trailer – Yep, no big names, cheesey by modern standards, but at the time one of the creepiest movies ever made. You don’t spawn that many sequels and imitators by sucking!

Phantasm trailer – Speaking of cheeseball, some of the sets and (lack of) costumes will make some think it’s a lame movie, but when The Tall Man enters the screen, all bets are off. The last scene of this movie is one of the scariest moments on film. And has there ever been a better horror movie name than Angus Scrimm? Ice cream trucks, ponytails and the sphere.

The Sphere

Mental Floss

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Impressions of Fall TV

Network Russian Roulette

Network Russian Roulette

Another season, another crapshoot. But if you’re going to find the pearl, you gotta shuck the oysters. Here’s my first impressions on five shows making their debut this fall, as well as five shows trying to avoid that sophomore slump:

 And yes, there might be spoilers below.

The freshmen

CommunityJoel McHale, like the hosts of The Soup that preceded him, has charisma. Hard to tell where this one is going with so many characters getting introduced so quickly, but McHale plays his selfish user somewhere between Sgt. Bilko and a young Chevy Chase. Problem is, the old Chevy Chase is in the cast, and in the first week he already dropped the name-fumbling gag from Caddyshack and the awkward food pantomime John Belushi used in Animal House. If Chase is used sparingly, and they let McHale spar more with the hilarious John Oliver (who I hope will be a recurring character), this could work. LINK

EastwickThey don’t know Jack. if they did, they would have realized that most remakes suck, and remakes of Jack Nicholson vehicles really suck. It was a stupid movie with Jack; imagine how abysmal it is dumbed down for network television sans Sir Satan. This should be dead by Christmas. LINK

Flash Forward…Hands-down the most ambitious and amazing looking pilot; the debut episode looked like a feature film. The central concept is a good one, and the strong performances of a solid cast already have me invested in a few of them. It’s odd that despite a global catastrophe most of the characters seem to have wrapped their head around this global mystery, accepting the chaos with a little better demeanor than I would have, but an hour of people screaming “what the hell??” probably doesn’t make good television. Conspiracy theory, science fiction, time travel, dreams and alternate reality. I’m down. LINK.

Glee…Yes, every character is a stereotype (jock, nerd, bully, brainiac chick, earnest teacher, dysfunctional athletic director, etc.). I don’t care. This is laugh-out-loud funny, the songs are phenomenal, and even though Jane Lynch is playing the same character she usually does – here a cross between her oddballs from The 40 Year Old Virgin and Role Models – she still steals every scene she’s in. Hopefully they don’t try to make it melodramatic as well. Either way, I cannot believe this is from the same guy who created Nip/Tuck – that’s like Barbara Walters doing porn. In your face, High School Musical! LINK

Modern Family…This is like watching a nervous juggler; if he can keep all those balls in the air it will be an amazing feat and perhaps even something worth talking about. But he might have tossed too many up at once, and it’s possible he’s going to collapse under a hail of projectiles. I love Ed O’Neill, and Ty Burrell shows promise as a cringeworthy “cool Dad”, but they were already going for the cheap, broad laughs in the pilot. Must admit I laughed at a couple of them, but with so many characters, the writing will have to be very strong or this is toast.   LINK

The sophomores

Castle…Looks like it’s picking up right where it left off, and if Bones continues to waste its time on romantic subplots between the secondary characters, this will be the go-to show for people who want a little light banter and sizzle with their crime drama. The leads have killer chemistry, the cases are plausible and  interesting enough to hold their own, the daughter might be the most realistic teenager on television, and Nathan Fillion is a star. LINK

Dollhouse…If any other team was behind this show, I think the network would have deep-sixed it after the first season. But Joss Whedon not only has proven himself, even the shows of his that have been cancelled have continued to mesmerize large fanbases. Regardless, it doesn’t look like a concept with a master plan at this point, it seems as if they’re trying things out to see what sticks. He’s got to focus this one better or only the fanboys will be left, because Friday night is a tough sell. LINK

FringeMindblower of a final episode last season, the kind of cliff-hanger that people talk about all summer. Solid cast, complex but not difficult plot (if you pay attention), and if you can accept the premise, you can be richly rewarded. Great chemistry between the leads and main supporting characters with some fascinating oddballs in the mix. If you liked The X-Files for either the linear mysteries or the Mulder/Scully relationship, you’ll love Fringe. LINK

Parks and Recreation…I’m really pulling for this one, although I can understand if people’s patience wears thin. The cast is amiable and there’s good situational dialogue, but the amount of people who can identify with this workplace – as opposed to The Office, which it’s modeled after – might not be enough to make this water-cooler material. Amy Poehler’s character is a dolt with heart and she nails it, and the supporting cast is good, with Aziz Ansari a standout. Hiring Louis CK as the small town cop was a stroke of genius; he might just save the show. LINK

Sons of Anarchy…Obviously not for everybody, but this biker drama is yet another reason FX has become the best channel on television. Somehow they pepper in a little humor among the violence and criminal activity, and the performances are so universally excellent (Kim Coates is absolutely twisted, and Katey Sagal was robbed of an Emmy) that even the guest stars need to bring their A-game. This season’s first episode brought Henry Rollins and a quietly demonic Adam Arkin to the table and proved the show already took it up a notch. LINK

There's always this option...

There's always this option...

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Things I Learned From Award Shows, Part Two

More snarky observations from the weekend, as the Hollywood Elite shook the Santa Monica sand out of their shoes (well, those with any Indie cred, anyway!) and headed to Red Carpet Land for the Big Show…

The 81st Annual Academy Awards

I'd like to fawn a friend...

I'd like to fawn a friend...

  • Sorry, Eric Roberts. For one night, at least, Hugh Jackman Is The Man.
  • Nice to have five former Oscar winners help present each acting award. But was that an introduction or a coronation? Did it really take fifteen minutes to fawn over Best Supporting Actress nominees? It looked like they were inducting a new member into The Skull And Bones Society.
  • Millions of dollars to reconfigure the theatre, douse it in brilliant lights and wire it to the heavens with cameras, screens and special effects. And the first time they try to use it, some stagehand forgets to open the curtain. (It’s a union job, smart money says he was probably in an oil drum in the Pacific by midnight)
  • Why did people think that Hugh Jackman – a singing, dancing Broadway veteran – couldn’t sing and dance? Great ten cent sets for the Best Picture tributes, but none funnier than the tribute to The Reader.
  • Anne Hathaway Is The Man.
  • Ben Stiller was only the second best faux Joaquin of the weekend, but still funny.
  • More actor fawning from prior Oscar winners. It’s a good thing that after the huge salary, the legions of fans, the constant media attention and the stroll down the Red Carpet through a crowd of sycophants, these poor people were able to get great seats and have their egos stroked by having lavish compliments spread over them with a trowel.
  • Is there a stupider question in the universe than “Who are you wearing?”
  • Judd Apatow Is The Man. (Or maybe Seth Rogen? No, no…James Franco!)
  • Having the two-time Oscar winning cinematographer tell his collegue to “suck it”.
  • Christopher Walken disappointingly did not do his Christopher Walken impression.
  • No Jack Nicholson. What, was there a Laker game?
  • Queen Latifah has a great voice, and “I’ll Be Seeing You” is a classic song. But when paying tribute to deceased Academy members, silence is golden.
  • Slumdog Avalanche.
  • Robert DeNiro on Penn: “How did Sean Penn get all those jobs playing straight guys” and he “gently reasons with the paparazzi”. Funnier than most of Bob’s last dozen comedies.
  • Good night for Oscar Dads. Heath Ledger’s father gave a heartfelt and passionate speech, and Kate Winslet’s Dad’s whistle was the highlight of her speech.
  • Has Jerry Lewis ever been that humble? Or succinct?
  • Speaking of Kate, I do admire her always solid work, but if I don’t see her at a podium again for a while that will be just fine. (At least she toned down the breathless “I am so shocked” routine). I suppose I have to blame Ricky Gervais for this. Will she be “playing a mental” next time out?
  • I am Woool-verrrr-iiiiiiine!”
  • Tina Fey and Steve Martin: Master class on comic timing.
  • Philip Petit. I bet that humility and a cool magic trick will be remembered more fondly than leaping over the backs of chairs.
  • Bill Maher (following an emotional moment in the show): “Great. Everyone’s crying and now I have to go on!”
  • Sean Penn’s speech.
  • A. R. Rahman running offstage after each win, much to the surprise of the presenters and usherette.
  • In a world where we have so many movie trailers, how did the tribute omit Don LaFontaine?
  • The Jimmy Kimmel promo was brilliant. It’s possible to like Tom Cruise when he’s not being Scientologish.
  • Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Full list of winners here.

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