Tag Archives: RIP

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Paul Newman was a Hollywood legend who, let’s face it, deserved a whole post to himself.

Born in 1925 in Shaker Heights, Ohio, second son to Arthur and Theresa who ran a sporting goods store. His first role was at the age of 7; he played a court jester in a school production of Robin Hood. By 10 he was performing at the Cleveland Play 220px-Paul_Newman_1954.JPGHouse and was part of the Curtain Pullers children’s theatre program. He was briefly at Ohio University but war intervened (well, war, and the fact that he dented the president’s car with a beer keg). He enrolled at the Navy pilot training program at Yale but was kicked out when his colourblindness was discovered. He went on to serve in the Navy as a radioman and rear gunner. He likely would have died in the war but for the fact that on the day his unit was attacked and killed by a kamikaze pilot, his own pilot was grounded due to an ear infection. Back home, he completed his degree in drama and economics. He toured with summer stock theatre programs before putting in a year at the Yale School of Drama, which he ultimately left to go to NYC to study acting under Lee Strasberg at the famous Actors Studio.

He moved to Staten Island in 1951 with his first wife, Jackie Witte. He made his Broadway debut by 1953 in Picnic. His first credited role had come a year earlier, for a 1952 television episode of Tales of Tomorrow entitled “Ice From Space” which Paul-Newman-1112x1500obviously sounds like something I need to see. In 1954 he appeared in a screen test with James Dean for East of Eden, testing for the part of Aron Trask, the fraternal twin of Dean’s character, Cal. Dean won his part but Newman lost out to Richard Davalos. Even though it wasn’t successful, it would be fateful. That same year, Newman co-starred with Eva Marie Saint and Frank Sinatra in a live (and in colour!) television broadcast of Our Town – Newman was a last-minute replacement for none other than James Dean. Newman’s name would often come up for Dean’s roles. The roles of Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun and Rocky in Somebody Up There Likes Me were both ear-marked for Dean but went to Newman after James Dean died in a car crash. Although Newman’s first film for Hollywood was in 1954 for The Silver Chalice, it was a flop and he often talked about his dislike for it (he took out a full-page ad in a trade paper apologizing for it to anyone who might have seen it!). But just two years later Somebody Up There Likes Me was earning him acclaim and in 1958 he earned his first Oscar nomination, for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Also that year he starred in The Long, Hot  Summer with Joanne Woodward for which he won Best Actor at Cannes but perhaps more importantly, he won the heart of the woman he would love for the rest of his life.

Of course, Newman was still married at the time. He and Jackie had by this time had 3 kids: Scott, Stephanie, and Susan. Scott appeared in a few movies, including The Towering Inferno, but died in 1978 of a drug overdose. Newman started the Scott Newman Center for drug abuse prevention in his memory. Susan also stayed in the family business; she’s a documentary filmmaker with Broadway and movie credits – she had a starring role in the Beatles movie I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and had a small role oppose her dad in Slap Shot. But back to Woodward: they’d first met in 1953 but reconnected in ’57 on the set of The Long, Hot Summer. He divorced Jackie and married Joanne immediately. As glamourous as they were, they were among the first big Hollywood couples to move away from L.A.; they made their home in Westport, Connecticut. They stayed married for 50 years, until his death in 2008, and three daughters together, Elinor, Melissa, and Claire. Newman was of course famous for his devotion to his family, and you are undoubtedly familiar with his quip about his own fidelity: “Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?”

In 1982, he and writer A. E. Hotchner founded Newman’s Own. It started with the salad dressing of course but the grand expanded to include pasta sauce, lemonade, wine, and more. But the most remarkable thing about the highly successful company is that Newman committed that all proceeds, after taxes, would be donated to charity. To date, the company has donated $500 million. Among the recipients of his philanthropy: protection for the first amendment; land conservation; religious 518ef81826479c420eb517da72e3ad1b1c7f16b0organizations; scholarships; theatre endeavors; a residential camp which he co-founded called Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, named for the gang in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid naturally where 13 000 kids are served free of charge every year; and another of his bright ideas, the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, which encourages CEOs of big companies to commit to charities – now responsible for $10 billion in corporate giving annually. Jeezum. So it’s not exactly surprising that Givingback.org would name him the Most Generous Celebrity of 2008; even since his death his foundations continue to generate good around the world.

Paul Newman was also a bit of a political activist. His support for Eugene McCarthy and his opposition to the Vietnam war meant he was #19 on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, which Newman often listed as his greatest accomplishment. Paul Newman supported gay rights, and gun control, and here’s a little factoid for you: he was at the very first Earth Day event, back in 1970.

Tireless, apparently, you may also remember that Paul Newman was a race car driver. He got into while training at the Watkins Glen Racing School for the film Winning, which came out in 1969. His first professional race was in 1972 at the Thompson International Speedway, where he entered as P.L. Newman, hoping not to attract Hollywood’s attention. He won four national championships at the Sports Car Club of America and came in 2nd at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Man, driving a Porsche 935. At the age of 70, he became the oldest driver to be part of a winning team in a major sanctioned race when he won at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona; he would race in that again at the age of 80. The last work he ever did in Hollywood was to voice a race car named Doc in Pixar’s Cars; in fact, he’s received a credit for this year’s sequel, Cars 3, as well.

Paul Newman is one of only four actors ( with Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, and Jack Nicholson) to have been nominated for an Academy Award in five different decades. 

1958: nominated for Best Actor for Cat On A Hot Tin Roof; lost to David Niven for Separate Tables

1961: nominated for Best Actor for The Hustler; lost to Maximilian Schell for Judgment at Nuremberg

1963: nominated for Best Actor for Hud; lost to Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field

1967: nominated for Best Actor for Cool Hand Luke; lost to Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night

1968: nominated for Best Picture for Rachel, Rachel, his directorial debut, which starred Joanne; he lost to John Woolf for Oliver!

1981: nominated for Best Actor for Absence of Malice; lost to Henry Fonda for On Golden Pond

1982: nominated for Best Actor for The Verdict; lost to Ben Kingsley for Gandhi

1986: WON Best Actor for The Color of Money

1994: nominated for Best Actor for Nobody’s Fool; lost to Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump

2002: nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Road to Perdition; lost to Chris Cooper for Adaptation

[Note: received an Honorary Award in 1986 for his “many and memorable and compelling screen performances” and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his charity work in 1994.]

Paul Newman was known for his piercing blue eyes and his sense of humour. His likeness was the inspiration for the 1959 illustration of the Green Lantern. Early in his career he was often mistaken for Marlon Brando, and he obligingly signed autographs as him whenever asked. He was Jake Gyllenhaal’s godfather. When he lost $50 to Jackie Gleason in a pool game, he paid him in pennies. Turned down the lead role in Ben-Hur because he “didn’t have the legs to wear a tunic.” Turned down Dirty Harry for being “too right-wing.” Was in an epic, years-long prank war with Robert Redford. He could play blues and jazz piano. He’s been on a US postage stamp. Although Paul Newman was the actor other actors looked up to, he was also a man of many diverse interests.

Paul Newman died of lung cancer in September 2008, with family by his side.

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A Ghost Story

ghost-storyFilm as a medium is almost infinitely flexible, universal and personal at the same time. Film is capable of so much emotion and yet it’s also capable of conveying the complete absence of it. Beauty or lack of it.  Terror or peace. And, as A Ghost Story proves beyond any doubt, film can make you feel so fucking uncomfortable and voyeuristic that you would give anything for the director to just yell “cut” already!

Put another way: how long do you think you could bear watching someone eat pie? Think carefully before you answer. For the full A Ghost Story experience, write your response down on a little scrap of paper and hide it in your house (or underneath a rock if your house is just a couple of pegs in the ground).

Whatever you think you can bear now, the inescapable truth is that no amount of tolerance for pie voyeurism will be enough to survive A Ghost Story unscathed. In one strange, haunting scene, A Ghost Story makes its mark, and there are lifetimes of other achingly lonely scenes for you to digest (but only if you can stomach it).

A Ghost Story plods, skips, stops, philosophizes, winks, and does whatever it wants, conventions be damned. It is a wonderfully strange, unique and brilliant experience that I cannot recommend enough.

By the way, see A Ghost Story in a theatre if you can, because there is a magical dichotomy in the mixture of loneliness and comradery that should result from experiencing this film with others. That contrast is yet another example of film’s versatility, and doubles as a valuable touchstone if you ever happen to become a ghost. It will all make sense in the end, and that is a comforting thought, isn’t it?

 

 

Like a Lotus Flower

like a lotus flower

Like a Lotus Flower is both a memorial to a lost mother and an example of how death can decimate a family.  The story is told in a way that keeps the viewer guessing and even though that is frustrating at times, that choice definitely made me pay total attention to this film in order to figure out how each person fit into the narrative.

At base, this is Eliya Swarttz’s story.  She lost her mother, Hedy, to breast cancer at a very young age.  Eliya wrote and directed Like a Lotus Flower, and reflects on her past through a combination of home video footage, interviews with the other family members, excepts from her childhood journals, and animated sequences.

The artwork in the animated sequences is a highlight.  Tonally, the art is an extension of the title, the visual equivalent of a flower blooming from the mud.  It is beautiful, somehow bright and sad at the same time, and ties the interviews and video footage together nicely.

It’s quite a puzzle to figure this family out, particularly when Eliya’s first father figure is her dad’s brother, who not only introduced Eliya’s parents to each other but also professes a deep and complex love for Hedy.  He refers to their relationship as being one between two emotional cripples who were trying to save each other.  For reasons that are not really explained, Eliya’s biological father is noticeably absent from the film and Eliya’s life in general.

There are also other notable and unexplained absences that will leave the viewer guessing, but perhaps that is the point.  There is no rhyme or reason to life and death, and this film captures the ebb and flow of people entering and leaving our lives as we grow.  Asking why Eliya’s mother died or why her father is absent is as effective as shouting into the wind.  These events happened and Eliya dealt with them (and is clearly still dealing with them in making this movie), and she bloomed out of a difficult situation.

By the end, Eliya is able to admit to herself and her family members how difficult her adolescence truly was despite her brave face, and when she does it feels like a breakthrough.  Like a Lotus Flower allows the viewer to participate in that therapeutic process as Eliya reconciles with her past, and does so in a way that is interesting and relatable.

Like a Lotus Flower is part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, screening May 10 at 3:30 p.m.

 

Patriots Day

patriotsday-markwahlberg-marathonbannerTerrorists are despicable. They take lives or limbs and create chaos and fear, sometimes in support of twisted ideology, sometimes just for kicks, and always demonstrate a complete lack of humanity. Sensational as their actions are, what deserves recognition are not the acts themselves, but the responses by the terrorists’ targets.

Patriots Day revisits Boston’s response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. It is a difficult watch but it has to be. We have to feel the weight of the loss in order to appreciate Bostonians’ courage in the face of a homegrown terrorist attack by two brothers who, from outward appearances, were just a couple of millenials trying to find their way (bizarrely, at least one apparently was a 9/11 truther).

Patriots Day provides a behind-the-scenes look at the events leading up to the bombings and then the hunt for these monsters who intended to strike Times Square next. They killed three people with their bombs and killed two more cops in the aftermath. Amidst the carnage, the police remain focused on bringing these suspects in alive, and it seems they might have succeeded in that endeavour but for the brothers’ lunacy.

Peter Berg and Mark Walhberg have turned these real life disaster movies (tragopics?) into big business for themselves, and Patriots Day improves on their formula from Deepwater Horizon.  Both movies take an arms’ length approach and do a good job of sticking to the facts. These characters are not perfect because they don’t need to be. Some, like Mark Wahlberg’s character, are composites. That is a bit weird when we are introduced to the real people at the end of the movie and the main character is missing, but in the middle of the crisis the character feels real and that’s what matters most. This movie feels real as well and is definitely worth watching.

I suspect even if Wahlberg’s character were real, he would not have given such a perfect off-the-cuff speech at the climax, but again, it works. It works because it captures how the people of Boston responded to this terrible event: not with hate or fear, but with determination, resolve, and strength. In the immortal words of David Ortiz (who appears in the film):

 

Debbie Reynolds

Just one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds succumbed as well. It sounds like the official cause of death will read stroke, but the truth is likely closer to a broken heart.

I knew Debbie Reynolds before I knew her daughter. Fisher gained stardom in a galaxy far, 002-singin-in-the-rain-theredlistfar away from the household I grew up in, but my love for Singin In The Rain is nearly timeless. She was just 19 when she saw the soaring success of that movie, but she followed it up with many other notable roles, including in movies such as Bundle of Joy, The Catered Affair, How The West Was Won, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Mother, and In & Out. She was also on Broadway, in cabaret, and reached a whole new generation through her work on television (Will & Grace, Halloweentown).

Debbie and Carrie infamously had a rocky relationship, some of which was portrayed in Carrie Fisher’s book\script Postcards From The Edge. Needing to find her own identity, Fisher sought distance from her famous mother’s shadow and the two were estranged for a decade, while Fisher dealt with addictions and mental illness.

The pair have since reconciled, and were never more closely bonded than they were before their deaths. During a sitdown with Oprah a few years ago, Reynolds said: “I would say that Carrie and I have finally found happiness. I admire her strength and survival. I admire that she is alive, that she has chosen to make it. It would have been easy to give up and give in and to keep doing drugs. I always feel, as a mother does, that I protect her. I want happiness for my daughter — I want Carrie to be happy.”

Carrie responded: “What I say about being happy is that I am ‘also happy.’ I’m happy among other things. Happy is one of the many feelings or experiences that I will have throughout a day. I think happy has been sort of made into this Hallmark card of a word, and I don’t know what that means. So I will just say that I enjoy my life, I make choices, I do what I want to do. I am a strong person, I’m not afraid of almost anything, and that’s a lot because of your example.”

We weren’t ready to lose either one of them, but wherever they are, at least they’re together.

Debbie And Carrie

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Opening of "Irene" - March 13, 1973

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21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Press Room

 

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher is dead at the age of 60. She drowned in moonlight, strangled in her own bra. That’s not remotely true, but it’s what she would have wanted me to say.

To most, she was their Princess, having played Leia in the Star Wars universe. To me, 978319-carrie-fisherunfamiliar with the Star Wars franchise for most of my life, she was a writer and a funny lady. She penned the semi-autobiographic Postcards From The Edge (and later, its screenplay) about her drug addiction and her relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds. She was also a notorious script doctor, doing uncredited polishes on other people’s scripts, including the Star Wars prequels, Hook, Sister Act, Outbreak, The Wedding Singer, Coyote Ugly, and Mr & Mrs Smith.

Then she did a one-woman show called Wishful Drinking, which has been one of my favourites, ever. She had such a great sense of humour about herself, above all else, and a keen eye for the ridiculous. Check it out:

She actually has a new book, The Princess Diarist, out just last month, based on journals she kept while she filmed the original Star Wars trilogy. You may have heard the bomb she dropped: she and Harrison Ford had an affair back in the day.

Of course you know she’d recently returned to her Star Wars roots, playing General Leia (badass warrior princess that she was) for a whole new generation. She could poke fun at screen-shot-2015-11-13-at-10-13-52-am-pngher character and her “cinnamon bun” hair style, but she clearly also has respect for the films and their fans. She recently completed work on Episode 8 and was slated to begin filming for Episode 9 this spring. No telling how they’ll treat her death in the films but safe to say it’s a blow for them as it is for us.

You may have heard that George Lucas told her on the set of the first (fourth) film that she couldn’t wear a bra under her iconic white dress. When she demanded to know why not, he famous replied “Because there’s no underwear in space.” When pressed for details, he explained “What happens is you go to space and you become weightless. So far so good, right? But then your body expands. But your bra doesn’t—so you get strangled by your own bra.” Fisher thought it had the makings of a “fanastic obit – so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”