RIP Pete Postlewaite and Anne Francis

We lost two outstanding, though very different, movie performers today both, coincidentally, from cancer. Both also appear to have been people you might actually want to know in real life.

The extremely well-regarded actor and environmental and antiwar activist Pete Postlewaite was only 64 and leaves us much too soon. His distinctive face was familiar to anyone who went to many movies from the early nineties on and is maybe best known for his outstanding work in movies like “In the Name of the Father” and “The Usual Suspects.”  He was in a number of films directed by Steven Spielberg, who essentially called him the best living actor in the world.

Below is his famous speech from the end of “Brassed Off.” I have yet to see this one myself, but check out the many slightly unusual choices here. He’s not afraid to show the combination of nervousness and righteous indignation that might fuel a moment like this.

The gang at Popdose has more, as does David Hudson at MUBI, Ed Copeland, and Anne Thompson.

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The beautiful and unabashedly sexy Anne Francis, who has left us at age 80, never became a huge movie star, though she did become a TV icon of sorts as “Honey West,” a private eye with a pet ocelot billed as a sort of female James Bond. To movie fans, she has nevertheless achieved immortality for a few key roles. As all “Rocky Horror Picture Show” viewers know, she starred in “Forbidden Planet” in which, as the extremely innocent daughter of a semi-mad (more like deeply neurotic) scientist played by Walter Pidgeon, she had to pull off asking Leslie Nielsen‘s space-ship captain the immortal question, “What is kiss?” (It wasn’t a band featuring Gene Simmons.) She also had crucial roles in two of the more memorable Hollywood “message” films of the 1950s, Richard Brooks’ “Blackboard Jungle” and John Sturges’ “Bad Day at Black Rock.”

In person, she seems to have no shortage of what movie and TV characters used to call “spunk.” You can see what I mean in this TCM interview clip about how she vehicularly resolved a spat with screen legend Spencer Tracy on “Black Rock.” She also displays no shortage of spirit and personality in this interesting combination of promotional and educational film shot at the Santa Monica Airport and featuring the late columnist, Army Archerd.

No word on whether she ever got her license, but I can certainly imagine her flying solo.

Much more at MUBI, as usual.

  

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Box office preview: “Dawn Treader” to take a reasonably lucrative voyage but “The Tourist” may be a stranger to big b.o. bucks

We have two new major releases and which one will be on top is a pretty clear cut case. Even so, it will be relatively muted victory.

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“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is the third installment in the adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s immensely popular fantasy novels. Though it was helmed by veteran filmmaker Michael Apted, it’s not entirely smooth sailing for the family-friendly adventures. Disney dropped the series after the somewhat disappointing showing of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” back in 2008. Since then, as discussed by both Ben Fritz and jolly Carl DiOrio Fox has picked it up and trimmed the budget in partnership with Walden Media to an oh-so-thrifty $155 million (!).

That’s probably a good thing because it doesn’t seem to be generating a huge amount of excitement, at least from critics. On the other hand, Narnia fans are a sure bet to turn out and, as the first 3D installment in the series, “Dawn Treader” could enjoy a bit of a bump from those inflated ticket prices. DiOrio’s guess of $35-45 million seems reasonable.

Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in From everything I’ve seen today, Sony’s “The Tourist” looks like it may be one of those movies that comes with the finest pedigree but just turns out to be a bit of a dog. Not only does this remake of a French thriller little-seen in the U.S. boast the truly enormous star voltage of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, it’s the follow-up film to the Oscar winning worldwide success, “The Lives of Others” by German writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. I saw von Donnersmark introduce that film before its domestic opening. He turns out to be an extremely fluent and completely unaccented English speaker who, even before his film opened in the U.S., was not shy about his lust to take on American films.

The maker of the compellingly dour political thriller has taken on an attempt at a sophisticated, lighthearted thriller along the lines of such non-Hitchcock Hitchcock films as “Charade.” And, where that film had a screenplay by the great Peter Stone, this one has one credited to von Donnersmark, Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) and Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”). You can’t blame a guy for trying.

The review by our own David Medsker was entirely unenthusiastic, but it was a rave compared with the highly negative reaction of critics overall. The same scribes who rhapsodized over “The Lives of Others” largely found “The Tourist” an exercise in high-gloss boredom. While audiences will be lured by the appearance of an ideal date movie the first weekend, you’ve got to wonder how the film will do once people see it for themselves. Still, about $20 million seems to be figure for the first weekend. We’ll see about the legs later on.

There’s also a bunch going on in the realm of limited releases. Looking at Box Office Mojo, we have a significant expansions of “Black Swan” after its boffo opening weekend. One brand new entry this weekend in five theaters is a new version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” which, despite starring the great Helen Mirren in a bit of gender-altering casting is getting pretty dismal reviews for famed/infamous director Julie Taymor.  A Shakespeare adaptation with bad reviews is a movie in trouble. “The Fighter” debuts also on four screens, though you can expect many more later.

Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg in

  

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Trailer: “The Tourist” — because you can only watch “North by Northwest” and “Charade” so many times

Not much time for long and newsy posts this week, but there’s always time for a cool trailer. “The Tourist,” this is one megastar vehicle I think I may already be sold on seeing. A remake of a French thriller starring Sophie Marceau that flew completely under most American radars, myself definitely included, “Anthony Zimmer,” “The Tourist” appears to be a rather jolly tale of intrigue along the lines of the more lighthearted Hitchcock and Hitchcockian international spy and crime tales like the ones alluded to above. Check it out.

In a movie world where acting modes lean to grim seriousness, leavened by the occasional out-and-out parody, it’s nice to see Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp channeling the gently tongue-in-cheek approach of folks like Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. What’s more impressive is that the director is the multisyllabic German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. His first-rate Oscar winner, “The Lives of Others” had its humorous moments, but it was heavy-duty stuff, pretty much the opposite of this kind of cinema souffle. Very interesting. The script is credited to a trio of writers, including Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”) and Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”).

  

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A roundtable chat with Kevin Pollak of “Middle Men”

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A highly entertaining character actor, stand-up comic, and now also a screenwriter and Internet talk show host, Kevin Pollak will nevertheless remain forever in the shadow of three men. One is wise-guy crook Todd Hockney from Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer’s slambam 1995 debut, “The Usual Suspects” (currently at #24 of all-time most popular films on IMDb); the other two are, of course, William Shatner and Christopher Walken. So powerful are the Pollak impressions of these two men, I’d venture that when most of us attempt to impersonate either actor, we’re really not doing Shatner or Walken, we’re doing Pollak doing Shatner or Walken. (Though, personally, my extremely bad Christoper Walken is really a very bad impression of Kevin Spacey‘s Walken but, for all I know, Spacey got his from Pollak while shooting “Suspects.”). Indeed, I can remember a time when it seemed like nobody did Shatner and I’m pretty sure it was Pollak who kind of opened to door for all the other impressionists into the voice and mannerisms of the man Pollak calls “the Shat.”

Among the nearly 90 or more productions he’s been involved with as an actor, Kevin Pollak’s latest release is “Middle Men,” a black comedy-laced drama owing more than a little bit to Martin Scorsese. The film stars Luke Wilson as straight-arrow businessman Jack Harris who falls in with a pair of highly inventive cokeheads (Gabriel Macht and Giovanni Ribisi) and would be Internet porn kings during the late 1990s. The pair have developed the first really viable method for collecting money over the ‘net in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, things get massively complicated from there and Pollak turns up later in the film as an FBI agent who comes to Harris and his porn star girlfriend (Laura Ramsay) with a startling new reality. The film, co-written and directed by George Gallo, best known as the screenwriter of “Midnight Run,” is actually just part of an ongoing collaboration between the director and the actor-comic and now screenwriter.

As is often the case, I was one of a number of scribblers who were participating in a roundtable with Pollak during the “Middle Men” press day at L.A.’s Four Season’s hotel. Pollak arrived in a friendly but highly subdued mood. He was a late addition to the press day and obviously has been keeping very busy. Among many other projects, he had a new stand-up special ready premiering, and an increasingly popular podcast, Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, with recent guests including Neal Patrick Harris and John Slattery of “Mad Men.”  Pollak frankly seemed a little tired at first, though going out of his way to be funny — because that’s what you expect from Pollak. Things perked up as it went.

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A few things I missed

* You’ve probably heard it elsewhere by now, but Bryan Singer has been signed to do a “Battlestar Galactica” movie, though of course it’s still very preliminary. I hope it stays that way.

The show will apparently not be related to the recently wrapped, broadly acclaimed TV series, but will be a complete redo of some sort or another and original producer Glen Larson is involved.  That Universal would want to do another reboot on such a recently and brilliantly rebooted property makes absolutely no sense to me at all and shows a real failure of imagination. Moreover, if the idea is to return to something more like the original, I have only one question: Why? One of the things that makes the new series so remarkable is how worthless its original was.

A few years back, I took a fresh look at the first few episodes after dismissing it in my younger geek years and, sorry, the show was three times as bad as I remembered. It was nothing more than a listless knock-off of “Star Wars” with an addition of some surprisingly blatant rightwing agitprop and all the poor characterization and infantile plotting that made seventies television that vast wasteland that it really was back then, with a few exceptions. There is nothing to be nostalgic for here and most modern viewers only know the new show in any case. Bryan Singer’s a smart guy and I just don’t get this.

* Speaking of Singer, his sometime writing partner Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) has been signed to do the next Wolverine flick.

* In other superhero related news, we are back at the start of it all with some new litigation which returns some of the control of Superman to the estates of his creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. It may dramatically speed up, or slow down, production of upcoming Superman projects since the ruling goes into effect in 2013 and Warners might want to keep more money for itself by starting sooner rather than later. Regardless, as someone who remembers the “creators’ rights” movement in the comic book world of the late eighties and nineties, I have to think the good guys won here.

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