RIP in Blues Heaven, J. Geils


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Appropriately, I was just leaving Fenway Park in Boston with my friends when we heard the news that guitarist J. Geils had died. The J. Geils Band were legendary here in Massachusetts, a gritty, down-to-earth blues rock band who had a string of hits in the 70’s, then reemerged again in the 80’s at the height of MTV’s heyday. The band, fronted by charismatic lead singer Peter Wolf and propelled by the bluesy harmonic licks of Magic Dick, released their first album in 1970, and hit the road to tour the country incessantly. They became known as one of the hardest working (and hardest rocking) bands in America, and hit it big on FM radio with their 1972 LP “LIVE! FULL HOUSE”, featuring the single “Lookin’ for a Love”:

The first time I caught them was in ’73, touring in support of their album “BLOODSHOT”, with the hit “Give It to Me”…

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RIP, Ya Hockey Puck: Don Rickles on Film and Television


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“Mr. Warmth”, the great Don Rickles, died yesterday at age 90. He was outrageous, rude, definitely non-PC, and hysterically funny. Rickles threw his verbal brickbats at everybody regardless of race, creed, national origin, or political persuasion, and it was all in good-spirited fun. There will never be another stand-up comic quite like Don Rickles, especially in today’s “safe space” world, and it’s a pity, because if we can’t all laugh at ourselves, if we can’t take a joke, then it’s time to pack it in.

Something I didn’t know about Don Rickles is he didn’t start out to be “The Merchant of Venom”. He intended to become a serious actor, studying at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. Frustrated with his lack of acting jobs, Don began doing stand-up as a way to gain exposure. When he was heckled by some audience members, he heckled ’em right back…

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Rest in Peace, Tomas Milian


I have some sad news to report.  The great Tomas Milian, an actor beloved by fans of Italian cinema everywhere, has died.  He was 84.

Perhaps because of the type of films that he made, Milian was never the household name that he deserved to be.  In the United States, his death is not even trending on twitter.  #ThickThighTwitter, which is essentially a bunch of people bodyshaming anyone who happens to be slim, is trending.  Tomas Milian is not.

And it’s a shame because Tomas Milian was one of the best.  He may have been beloved by fans of Italian cinema but Milian was truly an international actor.  He was born in Cuba, the son of a general who committed suicide after being jailed.  Milian left Cuba after his father’s death.  He moved to New York City, was a member of the Actor’s Studio, and became naturalized citizen in 1969.

Milian’s acting career took off when he started making movies in Italy.  He appeared in everything from spy movies to spaghetti westerns to horror films to 1970s police dramas.  Whenever I see one of the many films that Milian made in the 60s and 70s, I’m struck by his intensity.  Milian was one of those power actors who often seems like he might leap off the screen at any moment.  He played driven and often haunted men.  Along with an undeniable charisma, Milian radiated danger.

Of the many Westerns he made, The Big Gundown may be his best known.  Here’s Milian with co-star Lee Van Cleef:

My personal favorite of his spaghetti westerns?  The surreal Django Kill:

For me, Tomas Milian was at his most menacing in Lucio Fulci’s underrated (and not for the faint-of-heart) Four Of The Apocalypse:

Four of the Apocalypse was not the only film on which Milian would work with Fulci.  He also played the hero in Fucli’s classic giallo, Don’t Torture a Duckling:

In the 70s, Tomas Milian appeared in several Poliziotteschi, Italian cop films that were largely designed to rip off the success of gritty cop films like The French Connection and Serpico.  Milian was always the ideal rebel cop, though he could play a dangerous criminal just as easily.  Check him out in The Cop In Blue Jeans, perhaps parodying Al Pacino in Serpico:

The films weren’t always good but Milian always commanded the screen.  It’s hard to think of any other actor who was always so much consistently better than the material he had to work with.

With the decline of the Italian film industry, Thomas Milian relocated his career to the United States.  In his later years, he was a character actor who frequently appeared as corrupt military men and politicians.  His best known performance from this time may be his quietly sinister turn in Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar-winning Traffic:

Earlier today, Tomas Milian died of a stoke in Miami.  Rest in peace.

 

 

Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll: RIP Chuck Berry


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“Johnny B. Goode”. “Roll Over, Beethoven”. “Sweet Little Sixteen”. “Rock and Roll Music”. The most iconic songs of the Golden Age of Rock’N’Roll belonged to one man, Chuck Berry. When I got home this evening and heard the news he passed away at the age of 90, I knew I’d have to preempt my regularly scheduled post and pay tribute. Because without Chuck Berry, there’s no Beatles, no Rolling Stones, no Beach Boys, no rock and roll as we know it. He was that influential on 20th century music, and the uncrowned King of Rock and Roll.

Sure, Elvis was bigger, but it was Chuck Berry who wrote the soundtrack for a generation of kids listening to their radios searching for relief from the blandness of 50’s commercial pop. He spoke their language, the language of teenage lust, hot rods, high schools hops, all set to a rocking back beat. Berry was…

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Say Goodbye to Hollywood: RIP Robert Osborne of TCM


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“Hi, I’m Robert Osborne”.

Those four words, delivered in a smooth-as-honey voice, were delivered to classic films lovers watching TCM for over twenty years. Now that voice has been silenced, as fans learned today of Osborne’s death at the age of 84. He had been off our screens since early 2016 due to an undisclosed ailment, and we all eagerly hoped and prayed for his return. Alas, it’s not to be.

Robert Osborne wanted to be an actor when he first arrived in Hollywood in the 1950’s. He signed a contract with Desilu Studios, and soon began a close, lifelong friendship with superstar Lucille Ball. Osborne had small roles in episodic TV, and a couple of films (but I’d be hard-pressed to pick him out in SPARTACUS or PSYCHO), but his acting career went nowhere. Ball suggested he put his journalism degree from the University of Washington to good use, along…

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A Few Thoughts On The Passing of Robert Osborne


Robert Osborne, the longtime host of TCM, passed away today.  He was 84 years old.

I write those words with the heaviest of hearts.  I never met Robert Osborne.  I did not actually know Robert Osborne but, like a lot of classic film lovers, I felt as if I did.

Usually, I am not the most patient of film watchers.  When I show up for a movie, I want the movie to start as quickly as possible.  In theaters, I’m usually the one who is cursing under her breath during the whole spiel about how to safely exit in case of a fire.  I once got in trouble in a film class when the professor heard me muttering, “Shut up and start the movie.”

But, whenever I watched a movie on TCM, I always made sure to watch Osborne’s introduction.  It didn’t matter what movie he was introducing.  Over the years, I watched Robert Osborne introduce everything from acclaimed Oscar winners to quirky grindhouse features.  And, without fail, his introductions always made the viewing experience better.  It wasn’t just that he was knowledgeable.  It wasn’t just that he was erudite.  It was that he loved the films as much as I did.  Robert Osborne was just as happy to introduce a film directed by Jess Franco as he was to introduce one directed by William Wyler.  Regardless of genre, regardless of director, regardless of reputation, Osborne treated all films and all filmmakers with equal respect.  Today’s film community, so full of elitism and willful ignorance, could stand to learn a little from Robert Osborne.

I’m going to miss Robert Osborne.  In many ways, he was the mentor that every film lover wishes that they could have had.

Don’t get me wrong.  I will never stop watching TCM and Ben Mankiewicz is a wonderful host in his own right.

But I will never forget Robert Osborne and I imagine that I’ll never watch or discover another film on TCM without missing him and his articulate love for the movies.

You’re Gonna Make It After All: RIP Mary Tyler Moore


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She was America’s TV sweetheart in the 60’s and 70’s. Beautiful and talented Mary Tyler Moore has passed away at age 80, her smile no longer brightening this world. Mary was Laura Petrie, the perky and perfect suburban housewife on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, then broke new ground as single career girl Mary Richards on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, both seminal sitcoms from television’s Golden Age of Comedy.

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Born in Brooklyn Heights in 1936, Mary became a dancer as a teen, and got her first show business break as ‘Happy Hotpoint’, a tiny dancing elf in TV commercials for Hotpoint stoves. Her next break got her noticed, playing the sexy secretary on RICHARD DIAMOND PRIVATE DETECTIVE, which starred David Janssen. Mary never fully appeared on the show, only her smoky voice and dancer’s legs, and viewers were left to speculate on the rest of the package.

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Then came THE…

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