Tag Archives: John Cassavetes

R.I.P. Peter Falk

With apologies to Philip RothGoodbye Columbo.

Peter Falk passed away yesterday at 83. Probably most famous to most people for his longtime role as the rumpled but intelligent Lt. Columbo, Peter Falk had a long and storied career as a film and television actor. In fact, his breakout role was as psychopathic hitman Abe Reles in 1960’s Murder Inc., an Oscar-nominated performance.

Video: Murder Inc. trailer

I’ve always appreciated Falk’s versatility. He could play serious or demented characters, but also excelled in comedy roles in Murder By Death, The Great Race and The In-Laws; even his cab driver cameo in It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World was memorable.

He was great friends with John Cassavetes and made several films with John, Gena Rowlands, Seymour Cassell and Ben Gazzara. Husbands and A Woman Under The Influence got bigger press, but my favorite Cassavetes collaboration was Mikey and Nicky (directed by Elaine May), a story about a tragic and twisted friendship.

Video: Mikey and Nickey trailer.

And following on yesterday’s TGIF about Boston criminals, I would be remiss in not mentioning The Brink’s Job. Falk could do it all.

Just one more thing…goodbye Peter Falk. Thanks for a lifetime of great work.

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Award Weekend Redux

The Hurt Locker. And James Cameron was shoved into it.

Lame. Tame. And almost predictable

That’s the story of Award Weekend, where despite the stellar comedic talents of Eddie Izzard, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, jokes fell flatter than a pancake. Or in other words, as tired as that analogy. No, this isn’t sour grapes because I only went 6-for-10 on my predictions (more on that later) but it’s a little sad when the biggest event of the film year isn’t…well, big

First, the 82nd Annual Academy Awards 

I watched the show with my daughter; she Tweeted while I scribbled notes on the back of a nominee ballot. From her laughter, it seemed like the jokes on Twitter were funnier than the ones on the telecast. 

At the end of the show I used the power of my mind to read James Cameron‘s thoughts… “I wonder how drunk I can get for two billion dollars?” (Which at least will clear his mind of his prior thought – “Why did I dump Kathryn Bigelow to hook up with Skeletor?“) 

I start to wonder whether the Oscar crew does know who’s going to win when I see them do things like have Barbara Streisand present the Best Director Award; how ironic that she didn’t win for Yentl, yet gets to be part of the breakthrough moment. (How uncomfortable a comment would she have dared utter if Bigelow lost? And if Lee Daniels had won…would Spike Lee be pissed that he was snubbed for that sweet presenter slot?) When Streisand tried to milk the moment by stating “the time has come“, poor Daniels looked like Stephen Boyd during the climactic scene from The Oscar.

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Mo’Nique gave an awesome performance and deservedly took home the award (why are people still shocked that stand-up comics can be great dramatic actors?) and I appreciate that she wore a blue dress and flower in her hair to match Hattie McDaniel. But when the speeches started flowing about following in Hattie’s footsteps and how after so many years it was time, I so wanted to slip her a note to remind her that Halle Berry already cashed that chip several years ago

How ironic that Chris Pine had to introduce a groundbreaking science fiction film, when Star Trek wasn’t even nominated after the category was expanded to ten movies? 

After watching the music from Crazy Heart win so many awards, I realize just how much better it would if Steven Bruton was still around. 

Did Robert Downey Jr. actually pronounce the word specificity? Proof positive that his rehab problems are behind him. Finally a moment of humor as he and Tina Fey exchanged writer/actor barbs, but he won by calling writers “sickly little mole people” (a line, of course,  that has Tina Fey’s hand print all over it). 

Nice John Hughes tribute until Judd Nelson creeped me out visually with his almost-Downey look. Molly Ringwald would have scared me worse, but she was brought out previously, and slower. 

Not to kick a dog when it’s down, but how does a move that is about eighty percent animated win for Best Cinematography? Just sayin’. 

Ever want to run to see a movie two seconds into the trailer? Must, must, must go see Logorama ASAP. And how funny was Nicolas Schmerkin‘s acceptance speech thanking his “three thousand unofficial sponsors” and saying “no logos were harmed in the making of this film”? Then closes with a knockout punch: “It took, like, six years to make this sixteen minutes, so I hope to come back here with a long feature film, in about…thirty-six years.”  So a Frenchman with a thick accent not only has better comic timing than our hosts – but better writers, too? 

And why was Kanye West dressed up like a fat drunk woman in a bad Snuggie when he interrupted poor Roger Ross Wilson‘s acceptance speech for Best Documentary Short? (Yes, I know it wasn’t Kanye, but to mention the real name of that boorish cow would only extend her Warholian fifteen minutes. I’m hoping that the Japanese fishermen from The Cove watched the exchange, mistook her for a dolphin, and fileted the bitch backstage.) 

Better hosts would have jumped on that horribly rude moment and ridden it like a pony for the rest of the night. Billy Crystal would, and I know that Ricky Gervais would have had a field day. Are you telling me no one in that stable of writers could come up with a smack-down? Maybe they should have been tweeting for help

Ben Stiller needs to be involved in every awards show. And while James Cameron seemed to be grimacing like Stiller somehow didn’t have the Na’Vi language down perfectly, he should at least have appreciated Stiller’s close: “After I announce the winner I will stand as far away as possible so I don’t demean their moment of triumph“. (Seriously – how could Avatar not be nominated for Best Makeup? Hollywood really hates someone.) 

Star Trek won more Oscars than Avatar last night. Ouch

Was it me, or did the ceremony at the Governor’s Ball featuring Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman look like waaaay more fun that the main ceremony? The jokes were funnier and the tributes more sincere. 

Robin Williams, check. Testicle joke, check

Rude moment number two – The Costume Bitch starting off her acceptance speech by saying “I already have two of these” and then somehow getting more derogatory from there. Last. Nomination. Ever. 

My first thought upon seeing Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart come out to introduce the tribute to horror films: “Bite each other and die“. No montage is ever going to be perfect, but there were many startling omissions and a few (Edward Scissorhands??) that were head-shakingly out of place. Not to mention that the promo for Happy Town that aired during the commercial break looked scarier than anything in that clip reel. 

Sound Editing – any time we get to see more of The Dark Knight is OK by me. Tell me again how that movie did not even get nominated for Best Picture

In Memorium: I love James Taylor, but this is a tribute that deserves silence or a best a subtle orchestral score. Especially when you sing lyrics like “some are dead and some are living” as the montage of clips slides by. (What does James know that we don’t?) 

Late in the show I’m wondering whether Alec Baldwin is offstage yelling at his daughter’s voicemail, because it sure seemed like Steve Martin was soloing for almost an hour. 

Unfortunately for the producers, one of the highlights of the evening was shown during the commercial break. 

I finally aligned with the world of Twitter when I let out an audible “WTF?” when Dancing With No Stars came out to misinterpret the Best Score nominees. According to daughter Eli, that was the white-hot Tweet of the moment. (For the record, the biggest score in Oscar history was Adrien Brody bending Halle Berry over for a deep dive smooch at the 2003 ceremony.) 

More proof the writers don’t know a good joke, nor did audience: When El Secreto de sus Ojos won for Best Foreign Film, the producer opened with this gem: “”I want to thank the Academy for not considering Na’Vi a foreign language“. Dead silence. Come on, people! 

I get it, Sean Penn. You’re a rebel. Yawn

Best Actor and Best Actress gimmick: hate, hate, hate the one-on-one tributes to the nominees. Besides the fact that the show is already dreadfully long and the back story for each nominee has been rehashed a thousand times, what does the fact that this actor is a humanitarian or this actress is a good mother have to do with their performance? Or are you finally admitting, Hollywood, that it is about politics and favoritism rather than the best performance of the year? At least it produced a couple of good lines, thanks to Stanley Tucci and Tim Robbins (“It is Ted, isn’t it?“). 

No big shock on the four major acting awards. Jeff Bridges (has it really been almost forty years since his nomination for The Last Picture Show?) proved once again that The Dude abides. Sandra Bullock disappointed me by not getting all Sally Field on us and Christoph Waltz finally made an acceptance speech I could understand (his prior speeches sounded more like ideas for future Quentin Tarantino movies). 

I was surprised that Hollywood was able to ignore a movie that has already grossed two and a half billion dollars (and still selling) in favor of a movie that struggled to get financing, distribution and promotion and tackled a controversial subject. But I couldn’t be happier for director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal

Spirits? Many were served.

The less said about Friday’s 25th Annual Independent Spirit Awards, the better. Maybe it was the decision to move the event from a beach tent to…well, a tent in a parking lot. Maybe the booze started flowing earlier. But when Eddie Izzard bombs so badly that he has to start improvising with props and free-stlying in the audience to wake up the seated corpses, that’s a sad day for what used to be the most lively and raucous awards of them all. 

Then again, Izzard refused to let his “God is Dead” joke die, insisting on reviving it every time he came back on stage if for nothing else than to punish the audience. There were very few funny moments, but thankfully Will Arnett and Ed Helms saved the day when presenting the John Cassavetes Award, as did Ben Stiller’s speech and the clip reel of Roger Ebert viciously panning movies. (I was thrilled to see that Ebert was present for the event, as was the crowd that gave him an extended standing ovation.) 

Sorry, but Laura Dern being one of the original fourteen people present when the Independent Spirit Awards was founded makes me feel really old. If it was Bruce Dern, maybe I’d feel better. 

As for the winners, it was a big night for Precious. I’m sorry…I meant to say Precious Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire©®™ 

(Someone should tell the producers that every movie is based on something, which is why we have Original and Adapted screenplay nominations, but I guess that wasn’t good enough for the author. Or would that have screwed up the tie-in to Oprah’s Book Club?) 

Lynn Shelton wins for Humpday. Yes


And I was thrilled that Anvil won for Best Documentary, and anyone who has seen that movie – a real, live Spinal Tap – had to be moved when stunned band member Steve “Lips” Kudlow came back onstage and hugged the filmmaker, thanking him for changing his life. I still cannot believe that Anvil was not even nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar. 

And now it starts all over again! 

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I Know Noir, But What Am I?

Who is cooler than Lee Marvin, anyway?

Who is cooler than Lee Marvin, anyway?

I was thinking about how it’s been a year since we lost Jules Dassin and Richard Widmark, both of whom lived into their nineties and died within a week of each other. Dassin, of course, was blacklisted in the famous McCarthy-influenced purge in Hollywood but moved to France and had a tremendous career. Widmark is one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen, from his debut as psychotic killer Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death through a litany of westerns, war films and crime movies. In 1950, they collaborated on Night and The City, about a street hustler who tries to gain control of the wrestling racket in London, but of course is way over his head. It was a brilliant film, and like most noir features less-than-savory characters trying to make a move, and getting tantalizingly close before everything starts to fall apart. In a way, these are twisted morality plays, but I was first attracted to the genre because the stories seemed to be far more realistic than the typical Hollywood happy ending.

The noir era was before my time, but as an avid reader I devoured books by Jim Thompson and James M. Cain, and when lucky enough to catch them on pre-cable TV I would be mesmerized by Double Indemnity and D.O.A. and Out Of The Past. Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is a masterpiece, and one of the first instances of retelling of the plot from each character’s perspective. Now, thanks to cable channels like TCM and AMC, many of these films found a whole new audience, and the advent of DVD made most available for fans like me. With few exceptions, these aren’t going to be at Blockbuster, but I’m thrilled to be able to buy and enjoy them in my own home. Recently both Fox and Warner Brothers issued film noir series, and apparently sales are good, because more surface every day. The Criterion Collection also releases many noir titles and they’re meticulous about print quality, bonus features and whatever extras (booklets, interviews, etc.) they can assemble to present as complete an experience as possible. Their releases can be a bit pricey, but you can find many of them at decent used rates, and better library systems will probably carry quite a few.

One of my favorites, and a steal even at the retail price, is The Killers, with both the 1946 film starring Burt Lancaster and the 1964 TV movie directed by Don Siegel and starring John Cassavetes and Lee Marvin, the latter having one of the greatest closing lines in movie history. Oh yeah, and there was this Ronald Reagan guy playing a bad man, which some Americans swear he did again years later in real life. And today – the event that led up to all those thoughts about noir and Widmark and Dassin – Criterion announced the April release of one of the best post-noir classics, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. I am geeked!

I could list dozens of great films and probably fill a book about my love of film noir…and perhaps I will someday. But I wanted to use today’s blog feature to pay tribute to some of my film heroes like Widmark, Mitchum, Marvin, Lancaster and Cassavetes, as well as directors like Dassin, Sam Fuller, Don Siegel and Jean-Pierre Melville. I am so thankful that they were inspired to create such wonderfully vivid stories that are as thrilling to watch today as they must have been at the time. So if you are one who can appreciate that a great film is a transcendent journey, I encourage you to make the time to immerse yourself on the dark side of the street.

A series of noir and neo-noir films are being featured by Criterion  right now.

FOX studios has a noir series.

Warner Brothers does too.

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