This afternoon, I was in my Netflix queue trying to see what I wanted sent this week.
There were only a few Sydney Pollack films I hadn't seen (CASTLE KEEP, OUT OF AFRICA, SABRINA), so I bumped them up to the top of my list.
Imagine my shock a few hours later to hear of his passing. I wasn't even aware of his being ill.
I have to admit, I knew of Pollack first as the agent in TOOTSIE. Before I knew what a director did, I remember that role and saw it several times during its run. Because of that, he was one of the first directors who I could put a face to.
Over the years, he has been a very reliable director. THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY will probably go down as his masterpiece. TOOTSIE will be up there as well. The rest of his filmography was solid.
As good as his films were, he may be best remembered for his acting performances. From HUSBANDS AND WIVES to EYES WIDE SHUT, even MICHAEL CLAYTON and the new MADE OF HONOR, he acted in as many films and TV shows as he directed.
He was always a welcome presence, no matter what side of the camera he was on.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Posted by TALKING MOVIEzzz at 9:34 PM
To call RECOUNT the best film of 2008 isn't saying much, as there have been few even good films this year.
But when I hear comparisons between it and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (one of my favorite films) and I don't cringe, that tells you something.
I don't have to go into the background of the film. You all know it. It is an excellent look at the 2000 recount. I spent WAY too much time following each and every moment of those weeks and the film does an excellent job recreating them. There are even parts here that I had either forgotten or wasn't even all that familiar with.
The casting is perfect, with many of the actors looking so much like their real life counterparts that it is eerie. While Spacey and Laura Dern as Katherine Harris have been praised, I have to give credit to Tom Wilkinson as James Baker (who isn't portrayed as the monster as you might expect) and Ed Begley Jr, who is perfect as David Boies, appeal lawyer for Gore.
The film never lets up. It runs a quickly paced 2 hours, and it could have even been longer if it wanted to. Part of the greatness of the film is there isn't a wasted moment.
I have to give credit to the director, Jay Roach. Roach, the man behind the Austin Powers and MEET THE PARENTS films, does an excellent job with the material. His best film by far.
But an even bigger surprise was the screenwriter, a first timer by the name of Danny Strong. Haven't heard of him? You may very well know him. Here is his photo.
That is right, he is an actor, best known for his work as Jonathan, one of the evil nerds in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Or, more fitting to this work, he played Doyle, Paris' boyfriend in THE GILMORE GIRLS. Isn't this just what you would expect Doyle to be doing? Maybe Paris helped out in the research?
I've always liked him as an actor, and the fact that he could have created this screenplay? Can't wait to see what he does next.
RECOUNT ends with real footage of the events and people depicted in the film to show you just how they got everything right. It will be playing on HBO this month. If you don't get HBO, it should make it to DVD by the end of the year. Great film.
Posted by TALKING MOVIEzzz at 2:29 PM
Friday, May 23, 2008
Jonathan Ke Quan, will always better be known as Short Round or Data, depending on your preference for INDIANA JONES or THE GOONIES.
He only really made those two films, but they were more than enough to leave an impression on audiences.
Jonathan was a Vietnamese immigrant who came to the United States after the fall of Saigon. He and his family were given political asylum and they moved to California.
In 1984 he starred as Short Round, Indiana Jones assistant in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. Many older audiences saw him as the Jar Jar of the film, yet to others, he brought welcome comic relief to what was a very dark film. (You can read a great piece on his character here)
He continued with Spielberg in an even bigger role in THE GOONIES. Playing Data, Jonathan was the gadget obsessed member of the gang.
He didn’t only work for Spielberg. He starred in a couple TV series as well.
In the 1986 series TOGETHER WE STAND, he played the adopted son of Elliot Gould and Dee Wallace (E.T.’s mom, proving he could never escape Spielberg). This series only lasted on season but for some reason, I still remember the theme song.
Later, he appeared on the final season of HEAD OF THE CLASS, after Howard Hesseman left and was replaced by Billy Connelly.
There were a few smaller roles, mostly in Asian films (including a 2002 film) and a cameo in ENCINO MAN, but that was about it as far as an acting career.
So, what ever happened to him?
Jonathan, like many others, decided it was more fun behind the camera.
After graduating from USC’s School of Cinema, Jonathan did a little of everything outside of acting. He worked on a short film as an editor and cinematographer. He worked in sound editing, as a foley artist.
But his biggest work has been in the field of fight choreography. He was an assistant to the fight choreographer of THE X-MEN and JET LI’S THE ONE.
Could he have made a name for himself as an actor? While I hate to say it, he may have been typecast in his first two films. It would be difficult to go from Short Round to, say, Hamlet.
Enough time has passed so that maybe he could give acting a shot again. That is if he even wants to.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
For many, Jon Stewart invented TV political parody.
They would be wrong.
It was going on in the 1980's as well. In fact, I'd argue it was even funnier than Stewart back then.
A little show on HBO called NOT NECESSARILY THE NEWS lampooned Reagan just as Bush is being parodied today. In fact, looking at some of these clips, I wonder if Bush may be more Reaganesque than he is being given credit for.
Of the cast, Stuart Pankin is still acting today. Recently, he even hosted an infomercial. The show gave us "Sniglets", Rich Hall's segment on words that should be in the dictionary but aren't. Hall would go on to have a career as well.
Running during the height of the Reagan era, 1983-1986, at least one Best Of VHS was released to video, but nothing to DVD.
It may be dated, but it is still funny today.
NOTE: This post contains YouTube clips. If viewing from a Reader or other outside site, click through to read.
Monday, May 12, 2008
As hard as it is for me to write, I think it might be time to call Victor Nunez’s RUBY IN PARADISE a Forgotten Film.
It is 2008 and, even with the career that star Ashley Judd has had, it has yet to be released on DVD. In the past year, RUBY has been shown on the Sundance Channel, but it went several years without any TV airings. I don’t know how many have heard of it, or remember it.
In some ways you can say RUBY IN PARADISE ruined me for other films. It is such a perfect film that I don’t know why there aren’t more like it.
Ashley Judd plays Ruby Lee Gissing who, in the opening scene, leaves her boyfriend in Tennessee and heads to the only place she knows, Panama City Florida, where she visited on vacations with her family.
There, she tries to set up a life for herself. She gets a job at a local gift store, selling trinkets to tourists. She likes it. She makes friends, including two guys (Bentley Mitchum, Todd Field).
Not much happens. There aren’t any shootouts. No explosions. Just life. It is a very simple film, yet perfectly realized. You really believe these characters are out there.
The film was widely acclaimed by critics. Ashley Judd won the Best Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards. The film also won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. It made countless critics best of lists at the end of the year.
I saw the film in college while taking a screenwriting class. It had such an impact on me that I completely changed the topic of the screenplay I was writing. I went from a big action film to a small character piece with a lead character named Ashley. I still consider it one of my top five all time favorite films.
After the film, Ashley went on to stardom. I still believe this is her best film. Nothing she had done since has come close.
Victor Nunez’s follow up was ULEE’S GOLD, where Peter Fonda got an Oscar nomination. His most recent film, COASTLINES, which I loved and wrote about here, had a lot of trouble finding distribution but is now on DVD. He hasn’t made a film since.
Bentley Mitchum (grandson of Robert) continued to act, but not in anything at this level. He has done a lot of action films, the X rated Dana Plato film DIFFERENT STROKES: THE STORY OF JACK AND JILL AND JILL (really, actual title, it played cable with that title), and even a Bollywood film.
Todd Field continued to act but would make a turn to directing with IN THE BEDROOM and LITTLE CHILDREN. He has often cited Victor Nunez as being a big influence on his direction, and it shows in his down to earth style.
RUBY IN PARADISE was released to theatres by the now defunct October Films and released to VHS by the also gone Republic. It is now owned by Paramount. Since they are slow to release films to DVD, especially films they may not even be aware of owning, I’m not holding my breath.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
In the spring of 1991, a show premiered on ABC to great reviews. No one watched and it was quickly canceled.
That show was MY LIFE AND TIMES.
From Ron Koslow, the creator of the cult classic BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the premise had a man named Ben Miller (played by Tom Irwin) in a nursing home in the year 2035. Each half hour episode had him looking back on his life, telling the story of some event that happened in his past, which was our present.
The show opened with his narration:
"I can't say that I seen everything but I've seen a lot.
I've seen footsteps on the moon and seen myself stumble.
I've seen fear and did my darnedest not to be afraid.
I've survived the nineties and braved the millennium.
I've loved and lost and learned to love again.
And I've learned that life is an adventure.
You have to hold on and let it carry you away.
I've let in carry me to me to the year 2035 and I'm here to tell the tale.
I'm Ben Miller and this is my life and times."
He looked back on events that happened during the stock market collapse of the 80’s, the turn of the millennium, and his wedding.
The best episode of the series, and one of the great half hours of television in the 90’s, was the second episode, entitled “Jessie”.
Irwin sees a beautiful woman walking down the street (played by Claudia Christian). They end up having a one night stand, and she disappears. He never sees her again, but never forgets her. He finds her again, while they are in the nursing home, and she tells him what really happened. A beautifully crafted episode that I have never forgotten.
The series aired Tuesday nights at 9:30 PM on April 24, and May 1, 1991 and then was taken off the air. It returned on May 23rd and May 30th, where two episodes were paired back to back, so that all six could be aired and then it was gone and forgotten. It never reran, and it never made it to video.
The cast had better luck on later projects. Tom Irwin would go on to play the father in MY SO-CALLED LIFE. He is always such a likable performer, I never understood why he didn’t become a lot bigger. And his wife was played by Helen Hunt, who soon after would star on MAD ABOUT YOU.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
THAT WAS THEN lasted only two episodes on ABC in the Fall of 2002. It deserved a lot better as it had one of the more interesting premises.
Travis Glass (James Bulliard) was, essentially, a thirty year old loser. His life hadn’t turned out the way he wanted. The girl he was in love with all his life (Kiele Sanchez) had married his brother, and they have a son together.
One night, he is listening to his headphones, to a song that was popular in his high school days ("Do It Again" by the Kinks) when his house is struck by lightning. When this happens he is immediately transported back to high school 15 years before, and gets to relive his life.
The twist comes that every time he hears that Kinks song, he is transported back to the future, to see how the changes he has made in his high school days have impacted the present. He can’t make too many changes, like end up with Sanchez, because that would mean that his nephew doesn’t exist.
Maybe it was because I was pretty much the same age as the lead character, and the high school scenes, with all the eighties references, really worked for me, but I loved this show. I’ve always been intrigued by this sort of premise, how if you knew the outcome, would you make any changes to the past.
ABC buried it on Friday nights. It aired on September 27th and October 4, 2002 but, even though it was advertised to be aired that next week, I tuned in only to find a different show. It was canceled.
James Bulliard, the star of the show, hasn't done much since, only a couple TV episodes and a supporting role in an independent film. Kiele Sanchez would go on to star on a few episodes of LOST and has a supporting role on SAMANTHA WHO. So, ABC has had enough faith in her to keep working with her. Tyler Labine, the lead character’s goofy sidekick, would go on to star on INVASION and is currently on THE REAPER.
The parents in the show were played by Jeffrey Tambor and Bess Armstrong. Tambor must have been happy this show was cancelled as it meant that he could go on to star in ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.
One of the strange things about the series that may have contributed to its demise was the fact that the WB had a similar series called DO OVER that had a 34 year old going back in time to when he was 14 in 1981. That show also wasn’t given the chance it deserved, although I believe THAT WAS THEN was a better show.
I don’t know if THAT WAS THEN could have continued for many season. It had such a great premise. Sometimes I wish that the creators would have turned it into a film.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
THREE O'CLOCK HIGH isn't what I would call a great movie. Yet, there are moments of greatness in it. More style was put into this film than in most teen films of the 1980's.
Directed by Phil Joanou, the opening 4 minutes are some of the most entertaining of the 1980's. I could, and have, watched it over and over again.
I was going to do a shot by shot analysis of it, with screengrabs from the DVD. Instead, I noticed someone posted them on Youtube.
To set it up, Casey Siemaszko's character begins what will be a very eventful day.
And here they are (note, if reading this on an outside site or reader, click through to see):
The way the song "Something to Remember Me By" by Jim Walker plays in the background, the editing, the zoom into the dryer, the shot from the washer, the close ups of the microwave, I just love it.
And I have to admit something. There is the shot sequence where the keys are thrown in the air, the close up of the keys in flight, and a close up of his hand catching them. I didn't even realize this until recently, but I included that same sequence of shots in my college 16mm film. I suggested it to the guys I was making it with, they liked it, and we added it to the film. And at the time, I hadn't seen HIGH in a few years. I stole from this film without even realizing it.
After this opening, there is a great, seemingly unbroken tracking shot, with continual dialogue from many different characters, that is also pretty amazing to watch.
But, then the film (where Siemaszko is going to be beaten up at the end of the day) takes a bit of a detour, and isn't quite as good as I hoped it would be. That is fine though. The beginning more than makes up for it.
I thought Joanou (who made his film debut with this) would go on to much greater things. He really didn't, at least so far. He has made several films (STATE OF GRACE, FINAL ANALYSIS, U2 RATTLE AND HUM) but nothing as good as I would have predicted.
He did make a very good film, ENTROPY, that sadly went direct to VHS. It isn't even on DVD. It should be, as it shows all the promise that was in the opening of this.