Like most people, I was shocked to learn of the passing of Natasha Richardson, who passed away this week after falling and hitting her head during a ski lesson. She was 45. The daughter of Oscar winners (Dad Tony won for his direction of "Tom Jones" while mom Vanessa Redgrave took home the supporting actress trophy for her work in "Julia") Richardson made he screen debut at the age of 5 in her father's film "The Charge of the Light Brigade." She first gained notice in America for her role of Mary Shelly in "Gothic," and earned great notices for her portrayal of the title character in "Patty Hearst." In 1993 she appeared on Broadway in "Anna Christie," co-starring Liam Neeson, who would soon become her husband. The couple starred together opposite Jodie Foster in "Nell." Other popular film roles include the remake of "The Parent Trap" and "Maid in Manhattan." In 1998 she won the Tony Award as Best Actress in a Musical for "Cabaret." Eight years later she returned to Broadway as Blanche DuBois alongside John C. Reilly in "A Streetcar Named Desire."
If I may throw a public service message in here: I can name at least three times in my life where I've really smacked my head. Once, while playing hockey with friends on a frozen pond, I skated around and went into a slide. I underestimated my distance from the ice and the back of my head slammed onto the unforgiving surface, so hard that I saw stars. After a few minutes I felt better and kept on playing, but I had a headache most of the day. I can say now that I was lucky. I only wish Ms. Richardson had had that same luck.
Tony award winning actor Ron Silver died this week after a long battle with esophageal cancer. He was 62. The popular actor started work in episodic television until he grabbed a role in the "Stockard Channing Show." He won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Leading role in 1988 for his work in David Mamet's "Speed the Plow." Among his better known film roles: "Garbo Talks," "Timecop," "Blue Steel" and "Reversal of Fortune." He was also part of the "West Wing" cast for two years, earning him a Best Guest Actor Emmy award nomination.
Betsy Blair, former wife of Gene Kelley and Academy Award nominated actress, passed away this week after a long illness. She was 85. At age 17 she left her New Jersey home for the lights of New York, where she met 29-year-old assistant choreographer Kelley. The married shortly after meeting and were together for 16 years. After early success in films like "The Snake Pit" and "No Way Out," Blair's career slowed due to her assumed "left" leanings. However, her career took off again after appearing opposite Ernest Borgnine in "Marty," which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She won the BAFTA Award in that category for her role in "Marty." She worked successfully for many years in Europe, where she met and married director Karel Reisz. Following his death, she moved back to the states where she appeared in movies like "Betrayal" and the television series "Thirtysomething."
CAPTAIN CRUNCH OR HONEYCOMB?
Former President George W. Bush has just inked a book deal that will purportedly pay him $7 million. Rather then a standard autobiography, Mr. Bush will write about the 12 toughest decisions he had to make while in the White House. Among those decisions: whether to wear boxers or briefs and what kind of cereal he would have in the morning.
THE END OF NEWSPRINT?
In the past two weeks, two prominent newspapers in America have shut down. Both the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post Intelligencer (where my father once worked) shut their doors because of lack of revenue. Both papers do intend to run internet sites but will cease to publish. As someone who writes for a newspaper, this news disturbs me. Not because I'm worried about losing my outlets but because reading the newspaper is one of the things I enjoy most on a daily basis. Something about unfolding the pages and having a headline stand out to catch your eye makes newspapers seem so vital and necessary. I'd rather sit down at the dinner table and scan the daily news leisurely then worry about rushing online everytime I want some news.
MY FAVORITE FILMS, PART II. THE YEAR WAS 1991...
Starring: Warren Beatty and Annette Benning
Directed by: Barry Levinson
FIRST SEEN: Yorkridge Cinema, Timonium, Maryland
FAVORITE SCENE: Bugsy "disciplines" Jack Dragna
FAVORITE LINE: "Now oink like the thevious pig you wish you were decent enough to be!"
1992 Academy Awards for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration and Best Costume Design.
1992 Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Beatty), Supporting Actor (both Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley), Cinematography, Original Score, Original Screenplay.
1992 Directors Guild nomination for Best Director
1992 Golden Globe Awards for Best Picture (Drama)
1992 Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Director, Best Actor/Drama (Beatty), Best Actress/Drama (Benning), Best Supporting Actor (both Keitel and Kingsley), Original Score, Screenplay.
1992 Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Original Screenplay
In watching the DVD extras recently on "Bugsy," I was struck by a comment made by screenwriter James Toback: "No one could have done this film but Warren." It made me think of the career Warren Beatty had fashioned and, after a few moments, I had to agree with the statement. Of all of the actors of "my" generation (early 1970s), there are several great ones. DeNiro is regarded as an overall master, but if you ever watch a scene where he's supposed to cry, the man can't muster tears. He wails a lot (same with Harvey Keitel). Robert Duvall will probably go down as the best actor of that generation, though much of his work is done supporting other stars. That leaves Beatty, who not only seems able to take on any role but also has the added responsibilities he takes upon himself behind the scenes. If I had to pick an actor today who embodies Beatty's drive and talent it would be George Clooney, though he has a far way to go before he can match Beatty's output.
The story of famed mobster Benjamin Siegel (he hated to be called Bugsy) and his ideas that became Las Vegas, "Bugsy" was one part crime drama and one part romance. Annette Benning, who plays Siegels' lover actress Virginia Hill, holds her own against Beatty and it's one of the major academy oversights that she wasn't nominated for an Oscar. However, she ended the film with something more important: Beatty. Despite maintaining in interviews that she wouldn't be like other Beatty co-stars who end up dating the actor (Diane Keaton, Julie Christie, Madonna) she not only gave into his charms but made an honest man out of him. Two weeks before the 1992 Academy Awards she and Beatty were married and, four children later, are still living happily ever after.
What I really like about the film is director Levinson's attention for detail. He seems to flourish with period pieces (though he won his Oscar for the modern day "Rainman"). "Diner." "Avalon." "Tin Men." All take place in the past and Levinson leaves nothing to chance in recreating the worlds he's filming. I was able to spend some time on the set of "Tin Men" and was struck by the painstaking efforts put into making sure that everything that showed up on screen was historically accurate. This may seem petty, but sometimes catching something out of place ruins the whole experience. One example I like to use is "Scarface," which begins in 1980, yet in one scene USA Today paper boxes are clearly visible. As someone that has read USA Today every day since it began publishing (in 1982), a little mistake like that takes me out of the "reality" of the film. Again, petty perhaps, but it's nice to know there are filmmakers that strive to make it right.
My favorite scene illustrates James Toback's statement. When Bugys finds out that Jack Dragna has been stealing from him he summons him to his house. When the two are alone Bugsy verbally berates the man, to the point of having him crawl around on his knees, barking like a dog and oinking like a pig. At the climax of the scolding Bugsy catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and calmly straightens out his disheveled hair. In the hands of a lesser actor, the scene could have brought laughs. However, Beatty sells the character so well that you're more terrified of what he's going to do to Jack now that he's messed his hair up.
Again, if DeNiro is doing this you're probably giggling softly into your popcorn.
Beatty teamed up again with Benning in 1994s "Love Affair," a remake of "An Affair to Remember," then had his last great role in 1998s "Bulworth." After an appearance in 2001s "Town and Country" he has been happy to stay home and watch his children grow. Recently he has been working on a "Dick Tracy" special for the Disney Channel. If he wasn't to make another movie, he would end his career with 14 Academy Award nominations (for acting, directing, writing and producing) and one Award (Best Director for "Reds"). He remains the only person to be nominated in four categories for the same film twice (Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Actor for "Heaven Can Wait" and "Reds").
Benning has gone on to become one of the best actresses working today, earning Academy Award nominations for her work in "American Beauty" and "Being Julia." She averages one film every two years and will next be seen in "Mother and Child." Director Levinson, who hilariously played the bell boy who attacks Mel Brooks in the shower with the newspaper in "High Anxiety," has had hits and misses since the success of "Bugsy." Films like "Toys," "Disclosure" and "Sphere" made money but were drubbed critically. Smaller films, like "Wag the Dog" and "Liberty Heights" (another look at the past in his beloved Baltimore) gained critical raves but little money. He is currently finishing a documentary he shot during the recent presidential elections.
Next week I'll take a look at what many groups consider the greatest film of all time, Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane." And, if I play my cards right, I'll be overwhelmed by a contribution made by guest writer Greg Van Cott. Should be a great one!
Well, that's all for now. Have a great week. I promise to reveal all of the "Boston" story next week. Really. See ya!
"Mike's Rant" is ©2009 by Michael A. Smith. Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.