Actor Charles Durning passed away on Christmas Eve at the age of 89. Though he seldom headlined a film, he should be immediately recognizable to any movie fan as a very prolific and accomplished supporting actor. Durning, whose film credits span six decades, had over 100 film credits to his name, in addition to numerous television appearances. His first credited role was as Dooley in Harvey Middleman, Fireman, but he is more likely to remembered for the many times he’s held a supporting a role in a major critically acclaimed picture. His credits included The Sting, Dog Day Afternoon, The Muppet Movie, Tootsie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and more.
Durning kept acting until his death, with his latest films being the independent films Rogue Assassin and Amazing Racer. At the time of his death, he had a role in an upcoming horror film, Scavenger Killers, currently filming. There is currently no word on whether his role was completed.
Even in lesser films such as the B-movie Solarbabies, Durning was often a highlight of the movie. He was an accomplished actor on both stage and screen, and his presence lent a certain weight to films, often strengthening the performances of other actors. He will be missed by film goers, particularly here at Morgan on Media.
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. It’s an old phrase — coined by Mark Twain according to most sources — and just occasionally it seems to be true. Certainly that seems to apply to the film Dog Day Afternoon; released in 1975, it was based on a New York bank robbery that had occurred only three years prior. And if even half of it is true, it’s rather strange indeed.
Al Pacino stars as Sonny, a young man who decides to hold up a bank one hot August afternoon. His partner, Sal, is played by John Cazale. It’s supposed to be a quick ten minute job. But their third partner chickens out before it begins, and things only go downhill from there. Before long, it’s turned into a hostage situation, and a massive media circus. Continue reading →
“Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?”
In 1979, the Muppets were at the peak of their popularity. The Muppet Show had been running since 1976, and children and adults both regularly tuned in to watch the silly, surreal antics of Kermit the Frog and his cast of performers attempt to put on a show every week. The time was ripe for Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the rest of the Muppet performers to take the characters to the next level, to produce a movie: The Muppet Movie. The feature-length format allowed them to tell a complete story, the story of how the Muppets first came together. “Well, it’s sort of approximately how it happened,” as Kermit tells his nephew Robin. The movie starts out with the Muppets attending the private screening of their own film, and that subversive meta-humor peppers the entirety of the movie. The movie is filled with lots of other kinds of humor as well, from character humor, pop culture references, situational irony, running gags and hilariously bad puns. It also throws in some sentimentality, some excitement, some music, and a whole herd of guest stars. Continue reading →
Directed by George Roy Hill, 1973′s The Sting re-teamed Paul Newman and Robert Redford, who had previously starred together in 1969′s classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It would go on to win seven Oscars (and three more nominations), including Best Picture and Best Director.
The Sting is a tale of the con, and the con artists at the crux of it are Redford and Newman. Redford plays Johnny Hooker, a small-time grifter who is good at taking people for their money but bad at holding onto it. When he and his mentor Luther (Robert Earl Jones) grift the wrong person, Johnny finds himself on the bad side of mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). Luther is killed, and Hooker is on the run, seeking out the one man who may be able to get him some measure of revenge against Lonnegan: Henry Gondorff (Newman), master of the big con, and friend of Luther’s. Together the two start scheming on how to take Lonnegan for all he has. Once Hooker and Gondorff meet, the film breaks into several acts, each named after part of the con, and their machinations take up the whole of the film. I’ll not spoil it here. Continue reading →
Every so often, you come across a movie where it seems like the only participants who weren’t putting in a serious effort were the ones in charge. 1986′s sci-fi flick Solarbabies is such a film, where it seems like the director, producers, and screenwriters just didn’t care enough to put any polish on it. It’s too bad, because the actors — led by Jami Gertz and Jason Patric, who would pair up again a year later in the cult classic vampire film The Lost Boys — all seem to be taking the film reasonably seriously, putting in honest efforts at making their characters believable when the script isn’t actively working against them.
Clearly inspired by Mad Max and Rollerball, but aimed more at the teenaged crowd, Solarbabies is actually a pretty fun (albeit intrinsically goofy) film if one can overlook the flaws. Had those flaws actually been addressed, it could have even been a good film, though likely not a stellar one. Continue reading →
When it comes to directors, there are only a handful that are truly household names, names that will sell you (or dissuade you) on a movie all by themselves. Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas (albeit a mixed bag of late), Ron Howard, and so forth. For every director whose movies are advertised as “the new film from director X”, there are several dozen whose names are simply discreetly put in the opening sequence of the movie and are completely omitted from the marketing. Sometimes this can be a good thing. In the case of Jeff Kanew, had I known to look him up, I would have seen a filmography that ranged from Revenge of the Nerds and Troop Beverly Hills at its dubious peak to, at the other end of the spectrum, V.I. Warshawski, a couple of late (read: lousy) National Lampoon movies, and whatever Jesus Sex Scandal is. It wouldn’t have filled me with enthusiasm for Tough Guys, is what I’m saying.
As it happens, all of the promotion (then and now) for this 1986 comedy is, appropriately, centered around its two stars: Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, in what would prove to be their final collaboration. Rather than a comedy built around stupidity or vulgarity, as one might expect from the rest of Kanew’s resume, we’re treated to an intelligent comedy about two men finding that the world has passed them by. Specifically, two ex-cons who have just finished a 30 year sentence for the last attempted train robbery in the United States.