Tag Archives: Robert DeNiro

Ricky Gervais: Golden Balls

Thank God for Ricky Gervais, even if Ricky is an athiest.

Gervais, as he did last year, relentlessly skewered any pretense of dignity that some think the event has. Although it has been elevated to major award status, the fact remains that it’s just one more opportunity for Hollywood to pat itself on the back and ensure global domination of its main export, the American film. So widespread is its reputation for bribery, favoritism and hero-worship that even Robert DeNiro took several shots at the HFPA when receiving its highest honor.

I had to laugh when reading reports this morning chastising Gervais for being irreverent and mean-spirited, and I was astounded to see that some didn’t even find him funny. Are you kidding me? Aside from a couple of good podium moments (David Fincher, Jane Lynch) and two good introductory bits (Robert Downey Jr. and the always-gold Tina Fey/Alec Baldwin combination) the show was an insufferable snore-fest. When he was off-screen for close to an hour, the show dragged. There were no huge upsets in the film categories (Paul Giamatti and Melissa Leo being the closest thing to surprises) and as usual the attendees were more interested in socializing between announcements than paying attention to the proceedings. If they’re not focused, why should I be?

Ah, but when Gervais was at the podium, they had to focus, because he’s fearless; you never know what he’s going to say and when. Are people really upset that he inferred that Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen and Robert Downey Jr. have had personal issues? Was poking fun at some of the turkeys in a film resume really that insulting to a famous actor? And the joke about the omission of Jim Carrey’s performance in I Love You Philip Morris was brilliant; a one-two punch that savaged the voting board for its inconsistent temerity regarding homosexuality and launched a dig at pushy Scientology salesmen Tom Cruise and John Travolta

Also not nominated: I Love You, Philip Morris. Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. Two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay. Sort of the complete opposite of some famous Scientologists then…My lawyers helped me with the wording of that joke.”

Most of the celebrities seemed to get it; Downey countered with a great quote (“Aside from the fact that it’s been hugely mean-spirited, with mildly sinister undertones, I’d say the vibe of the show is pretty good so far, wouldn’t you?“) and even long-suffering Office doppelgänger Steve Carell dutifully played the fall guy for what must be the hundredth time. Only the HFPA President seemed truly miffed – or maybe his comic delivery just sucks – but I think he has bigger problems than a temporary insult most people will forget faster than they forgot his name. Perhaps those who didn’t laugh prove the old adage that “the truth hurts“, because the Sex In The City actresses are long in the tooth, Cher is not a hot commodity in 2011, and Tim Allen, nice guy that he is, doesn’t have a resume like that of Tom Hanks.

But there were some painful moments, too. I love Robert DeNiro, and few actors have had the kind of career he has assembled (even discounting most of the past decade). But anyone who has seen him on Saturday Night Live knows that he is abysmal when reading cue cards, especially when it is comic lines obviously written by someone else. It started awkwardly enough, dove into some racist territory and ended with a fairly creepy reference to Megan Fox. Within the speech there were some pretty great barbs deflating the HFPA, but it was as painful to watch as…well…Little Fockers, for one.

The biggest surprises of the evening were on the TV side of the fence; 30 Rock going home empty-handed, Modern Family losing to Glee (when their sophomore seasons have been such polar opposites, quality wise) and the lovely but absent Laura Linney grabbing the honor for The Big C. I was thrilled that Chris Colfer won for Glee; they handed him the ball this year and he really ran with it. Ditto Katey Sagal – not only finally getting noticed for her amazing work on Sons of Anarchy, but getting to take home the award.

The Observer from Fringe alongside Edgar Winter

So how did I do? Seven out of ten, but missing on three biggies. I guess the best movie can’t direct itself, but I think Nolan’s film was a superior effort. Loved seeing humble Colin Firth win, although if he stuttered during his speech that would have been much funnier. And I’m thankful that Natalie Portman won but was surprised by Paul Giamatti’s win, although he’s always good for a great speech, even when they censor the first ten seconds of it. The censors were uneven with their cut-offs and their music cues, but what the hell, I’ll be back next year to watch.

If the HFPA has even one-tenth the balls that Gervais does, so will Ricky.

The list of nominees and winners is here.

Here’s a link to a great page that lists the major category winners for the Critic Associations and provides a schedule for (and links to) all of the award ceremonies. Next up are the BAFTA nominations on Tuesday, with the Academy Award nominations the week after.

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I Knew It Was You

I don’t get HBO.

I mean, I get HBO – great concept – but I’m not a subscriber. I did, years ago, when I got everything, but as the cable company bill kept skyrocketing little by little things dropped off, until I was down to the skeletal, but still expensive, basic package. At the time I wasn’t missing much, since the home viewing market had transcended from VHS to DVD and the quality of the televisions got better. So by the time HBO started to really craft its signature programs like The Sopranos, I was so weaned off of pay cable that I still resisted. Only the advent of DVD recorders and the new market for TV on DVD box sets saved me, but shows like The Sopranos and The Wire were meant to be watched in six-hour gulps. I never would have survived the week in-between episodes.

I certainly can afford HBO now, but for some strange reason, I just haven’t bothered. Maybe it’s because basic cable channels like FX, AMC and USA have followed their lead and stolen their thunder? But the consequence is the same. Occasionally I still miss good programming, and I’ve conditioned myself to wait for the inevitable DVD, which likely will have bonus features and other amenities that would make it more than worthwhile.

And that’s my long-winded story about how I came across I Knew It Was You, the documentary about the great 70’s actor John Cazale. The title, of course, refers to the classic scene in The Godfather Part II between Al Pacino’s character and Cazale’s damaged brother Fredo. Of all the great moments in the first two films – and there were many – the last scenes between Michael and Fredo are the most haunting.

Pacino played Michael tight-lipped, private, superior. Cazale was palpable, he oozed defeat.

Cazale was only in five films, but every one was nominated for Best Picture; three of them took home the prize. He shared the screen with legends Robert Duvall and Marlon Brando as well as a Who’s Who of his generation in Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep and James Caan. He was never the lead, but The Conversation and The Deer Hunter and Dog Day Afternoon and both Godfathers would have been weaker without his presence.

I was captivated by the subject and by the film, but it had two major drawbacks. I didn’t really learn much about John Cazale, as the narration and the interviews basically echoed each other – an actor’s actor, found the heart of his characters, made his fellow actors better, always played true to the moment. I already knew that, having seen all of his films numerous times. Still, it was enjoyable to watch his co-stars as well as other craftsmen like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Rockwell and Steve Buscemi vouch for his impact as well as his directors Sidney Lumet and Francis Ford Coppola.

The other shortcoming – literally – was the forty minute length.  Again, I was honed in on every minute, so the quality was there. But even if they couldn’t have acquired rights to longer clips of the films, certainly there were more actors who could have been involved, or reflections from major critics who analyzed his work. As stated, I didn’t see this on HBO, but since there are no commercials other than their own promos…they couldn’t even hit an hour?

There are bonus features including extended interviews with Pacino and director Israel Horowitz (Cazale acted in several of his theatrical productions) as well as a commentary and two short film projects from the 60’s, so it’s not as if this DVD isn’t a good value. Despite my comments above, I’m thrilled to own it and will watch it again. But I guess when all is said and done, what I really wanted was more John Cazale…and maybe that’s the whole point of this portrait.

He was the perfect actor; he had no public persona that would  cloud your impression of the character he put on the screen. As good an actor as George Clooney or Morgan Freeman or Clint Eastwood are, when they first appear in a film, a little voice in your head says “there he is“. But when John Cazale entered a scene, you saw Fredo or Sal or Stan. John disappeared.

Cazale died in 1978 at the age of 42. For his friends and colleagues, there is a wealth of great personal experience and memories. For me, who never met him, there are but five timeless films…and now, this tribute.

No fish today, Fredo.

John Cazale Wiki page

Cazale on IMDB.

Oscilloscope Films

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T.G.I.F. – Happy Birthday, Robert Mitchum

Boy, talk about a rebel.

Robert Mitchum just didn’t give a shit about authority or rules. Didn’t care that in Hollywood, people were supposed to act a certain way. Didn’t care that he might rub directors or producers the wrong way and it might impact his career. I doubt he even let the word career linger in his head. Basically, you go around once,  and baby, if you want to climb aboard the Good Ship Mitchum, things are gonna work out just fine.

Of course, by the time this reputation was clearly established, I was but a young film buff learning to appreciate the wonders of The Sundowners, Cape Fear, El Dorado and Story of G.I. Joe (amazingly, his only Academy Award nomination). It wasn’t until years later that I finally saw Out Of The Past, which is easily in the top five list of the greatest film noir ever made.

I was not a big Winds of War or War And Remembrance fan despite the accolades; I prefer Mitchum young and rebellious and demonic. But even in his seventies, his narration in Tombstone was outstanding (the last line is an absolute classic) and his small role in Robert DeNiro’s remake of Cape Fear put a big smile on my face. Pretty amazing that he lasted within a month of his 80th birthday after the life he had, but his majestic film performances are preserved forever in all their glory. As are those record albums and mug shots.

So as I celebrate Robert Mitchum’s birthday by having a cocktail, listening to a calypso song and just not giving a shit for a little while; here are Ten Memorable Mitchums for you to recall and/or discover…

(No slight to fellow birthday buddy Lucille Ball, a comedic legend and genius, but it’s all about Bob today. Maybe next year?)

01)  The Night of The Hunter. Oh. My. God. As (cough) preacher Harry Powell, with fingers tattooed L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E, Mitchum created one of the most frighteningly sinister characters in film history.

02)  River Of No Return. Mitchum in a western with Marilyn Monroe, a raging river and a real-life pot bust during filming. Not a classic, but a side of Mitchum not often seen.

03)  The List of Adrian Messenger. Okay, Mitchum only plays a small part in this movie, much like Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis . The stars are really George C. Scott and Kirk Douglas, but this who-done-it is really more of a who-is-it. Trust me – watch this film.

04)  Crossfire. Three Roberts – Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Robert Young – in a wartime thriller directed by Edward Dmytryk. Available in a film noir collection although technically not really in the genre.

05)  The Longest Day. Still one of the best WWII movies ever made, this film told the story of D-Day from the perspective of four different countries and featured forty-two Hollywood stars in the cast.

06)  The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Mitchum as a Boston small-timer with his back against the wall trying to survive between the Feds and the mob. Incredible cast (Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Alex Rocco) and finally out on DVD. A must-see movie.

07)  Thunder Road. Moonshine, hot rods and rum-running as Lucas Doolin. Mitchum wrote the script and even had a hit song with the title theme (take that, Bruce Springsteen!) as he played an Appalachian James Dean

08)  The Racket. Another film with Robert  Ryan (perhaps even more underrated than Mitchum these days) where Mitchum plays the righteous guy trying to stem the corruption of the mob.

09)  The Enemy Below. A taut duel between submarine commander Curd Jurgens and Mitchum’s destroyer. To say this is claustrophobic is an understatement, but the game of cat-and-mouse is spellbinding and tense, and the display of respect for one’s enemy was an unusual tone for a war film.

10)  Out Of The Past. An absolute stone-cold classic loaded with killer quotes. “Build my gallows high, baby”…”Baby, I don’t care”…”It was the bottom of the barrel, and I was scraping it“. And when the femme fatale says she doesn’t want to die, he replies “Neither do I, baby, but if I do I want to die last“.  Also featuring one of Kirk Douglas‘ best roles; loosely remade as Against All Odds in the 80s (a decent film,  but it pales in comparison to the original).

Robert Mitchum’s filmography at IMDB.

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Happy Birthday, Steve McQueen

#2 poster after Farrah Fawcett

…or as my generation knew him, Joe Fucking Cool

Steve McQueen would have been eighty years old today, and that just doesn’t seem possible. Nor does the fact that he died thirty years ago, a month before John Lennon was murdered. Needless to say, that was one tough winterSteve was never a kid and was never old – he was always a man. He was always the man. Even when the guy got busted, he was cool enough to flash the peace sign. That’s cool


He got his start on TV like so many actors did then – many of the best writers were feeding scripts to anthology series and live stage productions. In the midst of his run on Wanted Dead Or Alive he got a great break in one of the best Westerns ever made – The Magnificent Seven. After that, it was on

We didn't get any more than we expected, old man

Women were drawn to him, and why not? Here was a guy who did what he wanted to do, made the movies he wanted to make, and said more by saying less. And men – well, they wanted to be him, especially fellow actors. Every man who wanted to play a more subtle kind of cool – when a Brando take would be too over the top – echoed his poise. Hell, Kevin Costner has spent a career trying to be Steve McQueen

He did his own stunts and raced his own cars. He was instrumental in getting LeMans made when few had the passion for racing or thought it could be captured properly on film. 


Bullitt might be famous for the great car chase, but Steve’s performance is top-notch. Matched up against his Magnificent Seven buddy Robert Vaughn, he is serious, relentless, unflappable. Peter Yates proved to be the perfect director, and the cast and script were stellar. It is so taut and mesmerizing that you might need to see it a second time just to catch the subtle nuances of the plot…but even if you miss a few things the first time you will not feel cheated. But it was McQueen who was the thread; if you didn’t buy his character, you wouldn’t see the film through his eyes.  And that was the core of the magic

Watch some coolness 

His career, for all intents and purposes, spanned fifteen years. Before and after he made flicks like The Blob and The Towering Inferno, but during his run he was something special and unique. In the 70’s, followers like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino and Gene Hackman found their footing and picked up the ball, showing the industry what great actors with discerning tastes could really do. 

Had Steve McQueen lived, I like to think he would have been like Gene Hackman – an actor’s actor. Instead, dead at fifty. We’ll never know. 

But we have do his legacy. Soak up The Sand Pebbles or Papillon. Revel in the revenge western Nevada Smith. See why remaking The Getaway was unnecessary. Be cool

 

Steve McQueen’s IMDB page

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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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