Tribute: Carl Reiner

Posted on July 2, 2020 at 2:06 pm

I had the privilege of writing a tribute to one of my all-time favorites, Carl Reiner for rogerebert.com. He was a legend in every possible form of entertainment, as a writer, actor, showrunner, director, and resident wit on social media. From his time in the legendary writers’ room of “Your Show of Shows” alongside Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, and his lifetime best friend Mel Brooks to his 2020 appearance in Pixar’s “Forky Asks a Question” series, his mentorship to newcomers Mary Tyler Moore, Steve Martin, Dick Van Dyke, and many others, his affectionate skewering of popular culture, he was a major force in the culture of more than half a century.

I love this affectionate remembrance from TCM.

Here is one of my favorite moments from what Reiner said was his best creation, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

May his memory be a blessing.

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Movies for the Homebound XIII: Before They Were Famous

Posted on June 23, 2020 at 9:07 am

Copyright Universal 1973
It is fun to look for early appearances of some of today’s biggest stars, including four Avengers.  Here are some great films with the added pleasure of seeing favorite performers before they were famous.

American Graffiti; This classic film about one night in the lives of a group of California teenagers features future stars Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Mackenzie Phillips (the original “One Day at a Time”), and future directors Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith.

“The Frisco Kid: Harrison Ford was not yet a star when he appeared with Gene Wilder in this westerrn about a cowboy and a rabbi.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story: Viola Davis plays a sympathetic therapist in this semi-autobiographical story about a teenager struggling with anxiety and depression who checks himself into a mental hospital.

School Ties: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play classmates of a prep school’s star quarterback (Brendan Fraser) who is forced to conceal that he is a Jew.

Cellular: Before he was an Avenger, Chris Evans appeared in this nifty little thriller about a kidnapped woman (Kim Basinger).

Heart and Souls: And before he was an Avenger, Robert Downey Jr. starred in this bittersweet comedy about a man who has to help four souls complete their destiny so that they can get to heaven.

Mississippi Masala: Denzel Washington was already a successful actor, but not yet a major star when he appeared in his sweet love story about a Black American who falls for an immigrant from India, upsetting both of their families.

The Horse Whisperer: Before she was an Avenger, Scarlett Johansson played a traumatized girl whose mother seeks the help of a man who knows how to gentle horses and people.

Hoot: Another future Avenger, Brie Larson, stars in this story about Florida middle schoolers fighting to protect endangered owls.

Southland Tales: I can’t even begin to tell you what this strange and strangely fascinating movie is about. But I can tell you it has a really fun early appearance by Dwayne Johnson (The Rock). With hair.

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Missing the Movie Theater Experience: Filmmakers Remember Their Favorites

Posted on May 16, 2020 at 8:00 am

Someday we’ll be back in movie theaters, enjoying films surrounded by a community of fans. Until then, enjoy this great article from The Guardian with filmmakers remembering some of their favorite movie-going experiences.

Copyright 1959 MGM
Director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”): I must also mention a matinee reissue of North by Northwest 20 years ago at the Lumiere in St Martin’s Lane, an underground cinema in the centre of London that is now a gym. You would go down three or four flights of stairs, shedding the reality of life in London, and find yourself in this gorgeous oval space, like being inside a whale’s ribcage.

Alfred Hitchcock created that film for an audience. He orchestrated their oohs and aahs, when they would lean forward and when they would sit back. This wasn’t about someone on the sofa at home getting distracted by their phone or the doorbell or going to get a drink. The place was full of energy and at the end everyone stood and applauded; just as they did when I saw Slumdog Millionaire at the ArcLight in Los Angeles.

Double Oscar winner Emma Thompson: Superman, 1978. Huge cinema. We were 17. It was exciting, funny and dramatic but, rarest of all, the female lead was as interesting and inspiring as the male even though she couldn’t fly on her own. When I exited the cinema I wanted to feel the way I was feeling at that moment for ever.

Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”): My whole career has been spent trying to replicate the various highs I have had in a cinema. One memorable screening at my local cinema in Somerset was the afternoon I happened to see the 15-certificate Gremlins at the age of 10. My brother and I approached the manager with the novelisation of Gremlins in hand, explaining that, as we had read it, we couldn’t possibly be scared by the actual film. Amazingly, he let us in and the thrill of watching the film, while also thinking I could be thrown out at any moment, was off the charts. I am still chasing that buzz.

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Movie MVPs of 2019: Florence Pugh and Adam Driver (Plus Keanu!)

Posted on December 31, 2019 at 8:00 am

Every year one thing I especially look forward to are the surprises — the actors we have not heard of as the year begins but who will dazzle us with acting skill and cinematic charisma, and to those we think we know but discover all over again as they show us range and ability we had not recognized. This year my acting MVPs are one in each category.

The one who was all but unknown last year but gave us three performances that could not have been more different and each was fully committed, thoughtful, and utterly compelling.

First, she played real-life wrestler Saraya Knight in “Fighting With My Family,” written and directed by Stephen Merchant.

Then, she was Dani in “Midsommer,” one of the year’s most disturbing horror films. She plays a perhaps-demanding but overall normal young women struggling with a devastating loss who joins her sometimes-distant boyfriend (Jack Raynor) at a once-every-90-years summer festival that gets, well, out of hand.

She plays Amy in Greta Gerwig’s gorgeous “Little Women,” giving more depth and heart to the character than in any previous portrayal, including Alcott’s.

All of this makes me very excited about her next film, “Black Widow,” where she plays the sister of Scarlett Johansson’s Avenger.

While we wait, take a look at her earlier performances as Lady Macbeth (not the Shakespeare one, though equally murderous).

And she played Cordelia opposite Sir Anthony Hopkins in “King Lear” (available on Amazon Prime):]

We already knew Adam Driver, of course, from his breakthrough on Lena Dunham’s “Girls” to his appearances as Kylo Ren in two Star Wars movies. But 2019 was another breakthrough for him as he appeared in very different roles in three films.

He was back as Kylo Ren, of course, in “The Rise of Skywalker.”

He played real-life Congressional staffer Daniel Jones, who would not let the record of American abuse of detainees in “The Report” (on Amazon Prime).

And he played a character based on writer-director Noah Baumbach in “Marriage Story” (available on Netflix). The vulnerability he shows in this film is breathtaking. He even sings Sondheim, and it is very moving. His co-star, Scarlett Johansson, has also had a remarkable year with a beautiful performance in this film and what I think is her career best so far in “Jojo Rabbit.”

I was also lucky enough to see him on Broadway in his Tony-nominated performance in “Burn This.” Coming up for him is “The Last Duel,” written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who also co-star, along with “Killing Eve’s” Jodie Comer.

I have to mention Keanu Reeves, as well, who should get some sort of good sport award for playing a gif-worthy heightened version of himself in “Always Be My Maybe,” a different version of himself in “Between Two Firms,” Duke Caboom, an Evel Kenievel-like daredevil doll in “Toy Story 4,” and an unstoppable assassin in “John Wick 3.”

I look forward to more from all of these performers (more Bill and Ted!) but most of all I look forward to the actors we don’t know at all this year but by next December 31 we won’t break able to imagine the movies without them.

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MVP of the Week: Zazie Beetz

Posted on October 3, 2019 at 8:00 am

There are two major nationwide releases this week, “Lucy in the Sky” and “Joker.” Both are stories of people who go nuts after losing their jobs. And both feature the wonderfully-named and wonderfully-talented Zazie Beetz. She is a highlight of both otherwise very uneven films.

I was impressed with her performance as Domino in “Deadpool 2.” Her two appearances this week in small but vital roles show her range and powerful screen charisma. In “Joker,” she plays a single mom who lives in the same building as the title character. In “Lucy in the Sky” she plays the main character’s professional and romantic rival. In both films, the main characters obsess about her character, and we can see why. She will return to the Domino role for “X-Force” and I am especially intrigued by another of her upcoming projects, “Nine Days,” a fantasy about a soul waiting to be born, where she will appear opposite Bill Skarsgård, and Benedict Wong.

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