In Memory of Ned Beatty

Ned Beatty died yesterday, at the age of 83.

Ever since I heard the news last night, I’ve been thinking about what an amazing actor Ned Beatty was. He could play it all. He could play a hero, he could play a villain, and he could play the quirky comic relief. He could effortlessly move from the movies to television to the stage and he seemed to instinctively grasp how to modify his style for each medium. Physically, he was instantly recognizable but he still managed to disappear into every role he played. You never thought you were watching Ned Beatty. Instead, you thought you were watching Bobby in Deliverance or Detective Bolander on Homicide or Otis in the first two Superman movies.

It’s amazing that, in his long career, Ned Beatty was only nominated for one Oscar and it wasn’t for his film debut in Deliverance. Playing the Atlanta salesman who is raped by two inbred hillbillies, Beatty gave a fearless performance in a role that a lot of established actors probably would not have had the guts to accept. Beatty wasn’t nominated for Deliverance or for his charming work in the British film, Hear My Song. Instead, he was nominated for his thunderous cameo in Network, in which he told Howard Beale that he had upset the natural order of things and, in a few brief minutes, stole Network from every other member of that film’s legendary cast. The same year that Beatty was in Network, he also appeared as an honest but befuddled investigator in All The President’s Men. Though his screentime was limited in both films, he made a lasting impression.

One of my favorite Beatty performances was as Detective Stanley Bolander on Homicide: Life on the Streets. For the first three seasons of that underappreciated show, Beatty played a veteran detective, the type of man who had dedicated his life to giving a voice to the voiceless. Who can forget him in the pilot, taunting Richard Belzer’s Detective Munch into solving a cold case? Even though Beatty was the best-known actor in the film’s cast, he still blended in effortlessly with the ensemble. Watching Homicide, you didn’t see Ned Beatty. You saw Detective Stanley Bolander, an aging Baltimore detective who had seen the worst but still tried to do the best job that he could. Beatty left the show after three seasons, under circumstances that are still hazy, though everyone seems to agree that blame ultimately rests with the ratings and youth-obsessed executives at NBC, who never appreciated the show while they had it.

(Considering we’ve lost both Yaphet Kotto and Ned Beatty in the same year, I hope at least one streaming service will pick up Homicide so people who missed it the first time can see how great it was. Homicide really laid down the foundation for The Wire.)

Ned Beatty was one of the greats. R.I.P.

NETWORK, Ned Beatty, 1976

The Shattered Lens Honors The Birth of Three Icons

Today, the Shattered Lens honors the birth of three cinematic icons!

Vincent Price was born on May 27th, 1911 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Peter Cushing was born on May 26th, 1913 in Kenley, Surrey, England.

Christopher Lee was born on May 27th, 1922 in London, England!

These three gentlemen went on to not only become very good actors but also horror icons! Each, in their own way, is responsible for my own love of cinema. You could argue that, without them, there would be a lot less horror fans in the world. Just as Lee and Cushing introduced a new generation to Dracula and Frankenstein, Price helped to introduce a new generation to the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

On top of all the work they did in the movies, the three of them were apparently good friends off-screen as well!

So, today, take a minute or two to remember three great actors! And, if you want to watch a movie with all three of them at their best, might I suggest Scream and Scream Again? It’s my favorite!

Charles Grodin, Rest in Peace

Charles Grodin could have been Benjamin Braddock.

It was a story that he told often, about how he was a struggling, 30 year-old actor with a few film credits to his name when he was offered the lead role in The Graduate. Even though producer Lawrence Turman said the role would make him a star, Grodin turned it down because of the low salary that Turman offered. The role was then offered to Dustin Hoffman, who went on to become a star and spend several decades as an unlikely box office draw.

It’s easy to imagine Grodin in the role of Benjamin Braddock. He probably wouldn’t have been as insecure as Hoffman was in the role. He would have been a less passive Benjamin. Grodin’s Braddock would probably have been more obviously frustrated with Mrs. Robinson and his parents. Nobody played frustration quite as well as Charles Grodin. Audiences might not have been as quick to sympathize with Benjamin if Grodin had played the role but I think he would have eventually won them over. Grodin was an actor with a talent for making unlikable characters somehow funny and relatable.

Though Grodin may not have played Benjamin Braddock, he still went on to establish himself as one of the funniest character actors in the business, a master of deadpan humor. He was often the best thing in the moves in which he appeared. In Heaven Can Wait, he was funny even while he was trying to kill Warren Beatty. In Real Life, he was a suburban father who found himself trapped in an early version of reality television. In Seems Like Old Times, he gets more laughs with one annoyed expression than Chevy Chase gets in the entire film. In The Great Muppet Caper, he fell in love with Miss Piggy and tried to kill Kermit. He was one of the few actors to make it through Ishtar with his dignity intact. In Midnight Run, he was the perfect comedic counterbalance to Robert De Niro. In Dave, he taught the government how to balance a budget. Though he was often cast in supporting roles or as a co-lead (as in Midnight Express), he proved that he could carry a film with his starring turn in The Heartbreak Kid.

A lot of people knew Grodin best as a late night talk show guest, where he always seemed to be annoyed about something. He would get into mock arguments with the hosts and leave audiences confused as to how serious any of it was. (According to David Letterman, none of it was.) He briefly hosted his own talk show, from 1995 to 1998. Legend has it that Lorne Michaels banned him from Saturday Night Live after he hosted the show, apparently because he was so difficult to work with. How much of that is true and how much of that was just Grodin doing a bit, no one knows. I’ve seen Grodin’s episode. It’s fine. He’s funny.

Charles Grodin died today of bone marrow cancer. He was 85 years old. I’m going to miss him.

Gilda Radner, John Belish, and Charles Grodin on Saturday Night Live

4 Shots From 4 Films: In Memory of Monte Hellman

4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films is just what it says it is, 4 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

I just saw that Monte Hellman, one of the most interesting American directors of all time, passed away today. He was 88 years old. Hellman didn’t direct a lot of films but the ones that he did direct were some of the most unique American films of their time. The Shooting is perhaps the strangest western ever made. Two Lane Blacktop is one of the greatest road films. Cockfighter and China 9 Liberty 37 both suffered from distribution problems but they have since been rediscovered by audiences and critics. Even Silent Night Deadly Night 3 has its moments of uniquely deranged mayhem, though Hellman himself often said that he did the film strictly for the money.

In honor of Monte Hellman’s legacy, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Monte Hellman Films

The Shooting (1966, dir by Monte Hellman, DP: Gregory Sandor)
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, dir by Monte Hellman, DP: Jack Deerson)
Cockfighter (1974, dir by Monte Hellman, DP: Nestor Almendros)
Road to Nowhere (2010, dir by Monte Hellman, DP: Josep M. Civit)

Today is Edie Sedgwick’s Birthday

Edie Sedgwick (1943 — 1971)

Today, Edie Sedgwick would have been 78 years old. Edie and her tragic life has always fascinated me. I’ve always related to her. As Edie once put it, “It’s not that I’m rebelling. I’m just trying to find a different way.”

Below is the “screen test” that Andy Warhol shot of Edge Sedgwick in 1964. Warhol did screen tests of several famous people, everyone from Dennis Hopper to Salvador Dali to Bob Dylan to the various denizens of the Factory. He would simply turn on the camera and film without sound and it’s always interesting to see how each subject deal with being filmed without direction. Edie was one of the few who controlled the camera from the minute her screen test began to the moment that it ended.

Edie Sedgwick’s life is often described as being a tragedy and, certainly, it was. But it was also filled with hope and optimism and future promise. That the world ultimately proved to be unworthy of Edie does not change who she was or how important she was to the development of pop culture.

Today, on her birthday, we honor the the amazing Edie Sedgwick.

Yaphet Kotto, RIP

Yaphet Kotto in Blue Collar

I saw rumors on twitter last night that Yaphet Kotto had died but, since it was just random people on social media, I didn’t want to say anything until the news was officially confirmed.  Sadly, it was confirmed this morning.  Yesterday, at the age of 81, Yaphet Kotto passed away in the Philippines.

Yaphet Kotto was a busy actor who appeared in so many classic films that I think we took sometimes took his talent for granted.  Kotto, though, was an actor who could play almost anything.  He was usually cast in dramas but he could also do comedy.  He could play both villains and heroes with equal skill.  He held his own opposite Anthony Quinn in Across 110th Street.  He was one of the best Bond villains in Live and Let Die.  He was one of the toughest members of the crew of the Nostromo in Alien and a key member of the resistance in The Running Man.  Long before Forest Whitaker won an Osar for playing the role in The Last King of Scotland, Yaphet Kotto brought Idi Amin to terrible life in Raid on Entebbe.  He was just as believable as an FBI agent in Midnight Run as he was as a auto worker in Blue Collar.  Blue Collar was probably he best performance, one in which he easily upstaged both Richard Pryor and Harvey Keitel.

For me, Yaphet Kotto will always be remembered Lt. Al Giardello in Homicide, the philosophical leader of Baltimore’s murder cops.  Giardello was written to be a stern and no-nonsense leader but Kotto played him with a subtle sense of humor.  He was the ideal leader and one the key cast members of one of the best shows of the 90s.  Andre Braugher may have gotten the critical acclaim and Richard Belzer may have gotten an entire new career based on playing John Munch in a dozen different shows but Kotto was the one who often held the show together.  Though Homicide was cancelled before it’s time, the show was allowed a reunion movie to tie up loose ends.  The movie ended with the death of Giardello and it felt appropriate because, as played by Yaphet Kotto, Giardello was the heart and the soul of the show.

Yaphet Kotto, a great actor, has left us but he will never be forgotten.

10 Bloody Essential if Lesser Known Michael Caine Films

A Shock to the System (1990, directed by Jan Egleson)

Today is the 88th birthday of the great actor and British cultural icon, Sir Michael Caine!

As I did with Chuck Norris earlier this week, I want to commemorate Michael Caine’s birthday by sharing ten of his essential roles.  Since 1950, Michael Caine has appeared in over 130 films and countless TV productions.  Trying to narrow his long and prolific career down to just ten films is not easy, nor is it really necessary.  All of Caine’s films are worth watching, even the ones that he made during the period where he basically accepted every part that he was offered.  Because he’s so prolific and because so many of his films are already well-known and regarded as classics, I’ve decided to focus of listing ten of his lesser-known but no less essential roles.

  1. A Hill in Korea (1956, directed by Julian Aymes) — This nearly forgotten war film is significant because it featured Michael Caine in his first credited screen role.  (He had appeared in three previous films but wasn’t credited.)  A veteran of the Korean war, Caine was hired to serve as a technical advisor and he was given the small role of Private Lockyer.  Years later, Caine would say that, “I had 8 lines in that picture and I screwed up 6 of them.”  The film is a standard war film and Caine is barely onscreen but everyone had to start somewhere and this film did allow Caine to appear opposite Stanley Baker, Robert Shaw, and Harry Andrews.
  2. Billion Dollar Brain (1968, directed by Ken Russell) — In 1965, Michael Caine shot to stardom by playing the working class secret agent, Harry Palmer, in The Ipcress File.  Caine went on to play Palmer in four more films.  Billion Dollar Brain finds Harry trying to keep a computer and a mad millionaire from starting World War III.  This was Ken Russell’s first major feature film and, through not as flamboyant as some of his later films, Billion Dollar Brain still feels like Harry Palmer on acid.  Caine gives a typically good performance, as does Karl Malden in a key supporting role.  Caine’s future Eagle Has Landed co-star, Donald Sutherland, has a small, early role.
  3. Zee and Co. (1972, directed by Brian Hutton) — Caine is married to Elizabeth Taylor and having an affair with Susannah York.  This is the type of movie that probably could have only been made at a time when studio system veterans like Elizabeth Taylor were trying to prove that they could keep up with the new wave of filmmakers and stars.  Providing proof of his acting abilities, Caine somehow keeps a straight face and gives a credible performance while Taylor emotes all over the place.  The end result is loud, vulgar, and undeniably entertaining.
  4. Beyond The Poseidon Adventure (1979, directed by Irwin Allen) — I’m including this film as a stand-in for all of the films that Caine made strictly for the money.  It’s a ludicrous film but hard not to enjoy.  Michael Caine plays a tugboat captain who, with the help of Sally Field, attempts to salvage the cap-sized Poseidon before the luxury liner finally sinks.  Also showing up: Telly Savalas, Slim Pickens, Peter Boyle, and Billion Dollar Brain‘s Karl Malden.
  5. Mona Lisa (1986, directed by Neil Jordan) — The same year that Michael Caine appeared in his Oscar-winning role in Hannah and Her Sisters, he also played a gangster named Mortwell in Mona Lisa.  Caine is chillingly good in a rare villainous role.
  6. The Fourth Protocol (1987, directed by John MacKenzie) — This underrated spy thriller features Michael Caine as a world-weary British spy who has to stop KGB agent Pierce Brosnan from detonating a nuclear device.  This is a well-made spy thriller and it’s interesting to see Caine (who started his career as the anti-James Bond in the Harry Palmer films) acting opposite future Bond, Pierce Brosnan.
  7. Without A Clue (1988, directed by Thom Eberhardt) — This genuinely funny comedy stars Caine as Sherlock Holmes and Ben Kingsley as Dr. Watson.  The catch is that Holmes is actually a clueless actor who was hired by Watson to pretend to be a great detective.  When Prof. Moriarty targets Watson, Holmes is forced to actually solve a case on his own.  Caine and Kingsley make for a surprisingly good comedy team.
  8. A Shock to the System (1990, directed by Jan Egleson) — In this very dark comedy, Caine plays an executive who, sick of being passed over for promotions and criticized by his wife, decided to just kill everyone who annoys him.  This is one of Caine’s best performances and this underrated film’s satire feels just as relevant today as when it was released.
  9. Blood and Wine (1997, directed by Bob Rafelson) — This underrated neo-noir gave Michael Caine a chance to act opposite Jack Nicholson.  The two iconic actors bring out the best in each other, playing partners in a jewelry heist gone wrong.
  10. Is Anybody There? (2008, directed by John Crowley) — In this low-key but emotionally effective film, Caine plays an elderly magician who is suffering from the early stages of dementia.  Having entered a retirement home, he befriends the son of the home’s manager and the two of them search for evidence of life after death.  Though the film didn’t get much attention in the States, Caine described it as a favorite in his most recent autobiography, Blowing The Bloody Doors Off.  75 years-old when he appeared in the film, Caine proved that he could still take audiences by surprise and create an unforgettable character.

10 Essential Chuck Norris Films

Chuck Norris is 81 years old today!  Below are ten essential Chuck Norris films.  These are the movies to watch if you want to understand how and why Chuck Norris, despite being an actor with an admittedly limited range, became not only an action hero but an enduring pop cultural icon.

  1. The Delta Force (1986, directed by Menahem Golan) — The Delta Force, a.k.a. The Greatest Movie Ever Made, is the obvious pick for the top spot on our list of Chuck Norris essentials.  Not only does it feature, along with Chuck, Lee Marvin, Robert Vaughn, George Kennedy, Bo Svenson, and Robert Forster chewing up all the scenery but this is the film where Chuck rides a missile-equipped motorcycle.  Not only does this film feature Chuck Norris at his stoic-but-determined best but it also features one the greatest lines in film history when a recently released hostage is handed a Budweiser and responds by shouting, “Beer!  America!”
  2. Code of Silence (1985, directed by Andrew Davis) — For a film that features Chuck Norris and a crime-fighting robot called THE PROWLER, Code of Silence is actually a tough, gritty, and realistic Chicago-based crime drama.  Giving the best performance of his career, Chuck plays an honest cop who finds himself in the middle of a drug war.  Henry Silva plays the main bad guy.  Director Andrew Davis later went on to direct The Fugitive.
  3. Way of the Dragon (1972, directed by Bruce Lee) — Chuck plays a rare bad guy here.  He’s a mercenary named Colt and the film climaxes with a brutal fight between him and Bruce Lee.  The fight is a classic, with a good deal of emphasis put on the shared respect between not only the characters played by Norris and Lee but also between Lee and Norris themselves, two masters at the top of their game.
  4. Silent Rage (1982, directed by Michael Miller) — In this slasher/kung fu hybrid, Chuck is a sheriff who must stop a madman who, as the result of a poorly conceived medical experiment, is basically immortal.  For once, Chuck faces an opponent who is just as strong and relentless as he is.
  5. Invasion U.S.A. (1985, directed by Joseph Zito) — Chuck vs. Richard Lynch!  This is one of Chuck’s best Cannon films.  Chuck is as good a hero as ever but what makes the film work is the diabolically evil performance of Richard Lynch.  They are ideal opponents, with Norris stepping up to not only defeat the bad guys but also to save America itself!
  6. Lone Wolf McQuade (1983, directed by Steve Carver) — This is the first film to feature Chuck Norris as a Texas Ranger and, as we all know, it turned out to be the perfect role for him.  This was the first of Chuck’s neo-westerns.  Cast as the bad guy, David Carradine proved to be one of Chuck’s best opponents.
  7. A Force of One (1979, directed by Paul Aaron) — A serial killer is targeting cops.  Chuck essentially plays himself, a karate instructor who is brought in to teach the detective self-defense.  This serial killer plot is actually interesting and the film features some of Chuck’s best fight scenes.
  8. Missing In Action (1984, directed by Joseph Zito) — Chuck plays a vet and a former POW who returns to Vietnam in the 80s to rescue the men who were left behind.  This is hardly my favorite Norris film and it owes too much to Rambo: First Blood II to truly be successful but this is also one of Chuck Norris’s biggest hits and it’s an essential film is you want to understand the man’s film career.  It’s a cheap production but Chuck’s sincerity and his convincing skills as an action hero almost save the day.  It’s also hard to overlook that, as far as I know, this is the only Chuck Norris film that features Chuck watching an episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.
  9. An Eye From An Eye (1981, directed by Steve Carver) — Chuck Norris plays an undercover cop who quits the force and tries to bring Christopher Lee to justice.  This one is worth seeing just because it brings together two pop culture icons, Chuck Norris and Christopher Lee.
  10. Breaker!  Breaker! (1977, directed by Don Hulette) — This was Chuck Norris’s first starring role.  He’s actually miscast as a trucker but this film is still worth seeing just for the final scene, in which Chuck and his friends use their trucks to destroy an entire town.

10 Christopher Plummer Films To Watch This Weekend

Christopher Plummer died today.  The Canadian actor was 91 years old and he left behind a truly impressive filmography.  Below are ten films that I would recommend if you want to have a Christopher Plummer film fesival this weekend.  I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a bit of an idiosyncratic list, a mixture of obscure and cult films with a few films that are well-known but which perhaps aren’t usually thought of as being Christopher Plummer films.  This was intentional on my part.  Everyone already knows that Christopher Plummer was in The Sound of Music and Knives Out.  I wanted to recommend a few films that you might not see listed elsewhere.

So, with all that in mind, here are 10 Christopher Plummer films to watch this weekend:

Starcrash (1979) — One of my favorite films of all time, this Star Wars rip-off features Christopher Plummer in the small but pivotal role of the Emperor of the Galaxy.  Plummer brings a lot dignity and humanity to the role.  If the galaxy does ever have an emperor, I hope he will be as wise as Christopher Plummer was in Starcrash.

Up (2009) — Christopher Plummer lends his amazing voice to this PIXAR film about an old man who floats away on an adventure and who runs into far more sinister adventurer named Charles Muntz.  Plummer is wonderfully menacing at Muntz, using his voice to create one of PIXAR’s most memorable villains.

Murder By Decree (1979) — In this Canadian film, Plummer plays Sherlock Holmes while James Mason plays Dr. Watson.  Together, they investigate the crimes of Jack the Ripper and uncover a royal conspiracy.  Plummer is perhaps one of the most credible Sherlock Holmes to ever appear on screen, breathing real life into a character that otherwise could have felt like a literary invention.  Thanks to Plummer’s performance, the final scenes are poignant and rather sad and perhaps as emotional as any scene to be found in any screen adaptations of Holmes’s adventures.

12 Monkeys (1995) — Plummer is nicely cast of Brad Pitt’s father in this Terry Gilliam-directed time travel epic.

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) — In this historical epic, Plummer played yet another emperor, the mad Commodus.  Though The Fall of the Roman Empire has its flaws, it’s still an enjoyable work of spectacle and Plummer’s villainous turn is definitely one of the film’s highlights.  Whereas other Roman epics often portrayed the “bad” emperors as being decadent and somewhat buffoonish, Plummer plays up Commodus’s anger and his desire for revenge.  He’s the emotionally vulnerable tyrant.

Dreamscape (1984) — The enjoyable sci-fi/horror hybrid features Plummer as a sinister government agent who is conspiring to kill the President through his dreams.  Though the role might not have much depth, this is a well-made movie and Plummer makes for an effective villain.

The Silent Partner (1979) — Christopher Plummer is terrifying in this Canadian film, playing a bank robber who dresses up like Santa Claus and who has no hesitation about using violence to get what he wants.  This is one of Plummer’s best villainous turns.

Barrymore (2011) — The great Christopher Plummer plays the great John Barrymore in this Canadian film.  This may not be Plummer’s best-known performances but it’s one of his best.

Alexander (2004) — As silly as this Oliver Stone epic sometimes is, Christopher Plummer is the ideal Aristotle.

Vampire in Venice (1988) — Christopher Plummer vs. Klaus Kinski in Venice!  Kinski is Dracula.  Plummer is basically Van Helsing.  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime meeting of two unique acting talents.

Finally, a few other Christopher Plummer films that I’d also recommend checking out: Inside Daisy Clover, The Pyx, The Man Who Would Be King, Wolf, Dolores Claiborne, The New World, The Last Station, Beginners, All The Money In The World, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Christopher Plummer, R.I.P.


Sean Connery Has Died

The greatest James Bond passed away earlier today in The Bahamas.  He was 90 years old.

Actually, it’s unfair to refer to Connery as simply being the greatest James Bond.  He was a great actor, period.  Yes, he will always be best known for playing James Bond but he also appeared in dramas, comedies, adventure films, and even the occasional sci-fi flick.  He was an actor who epitomized an era of filmmaking.  One can only imagine how Sean Connery would react to someone demanding that he apologize for a tweet.

Sean Connery, R.I.P.