On December 1, 1983, director Brian de Palma (The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way) released his modernized version of Ben Hecht and Howard Hawks’ 1930s gangster drama, Scarface. While the original followed a charismatic Chicago mobster in the Prohibition era, de Palma’s version took the character to violent world of the 1980s drug trade in Miami, Florida. Fueled by Al Pacino‘s riveting performance and backed by an outstanding supporting cast that included Michelle Pfeiffer (What Lies Beneath, Batman Returns), Steven Bauer (Raising Cain, Primal Fear), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (The Abyss, The Perfect Storm) and Robert Loggia (Big, Independence Day), Scarface ushered in a new era of gangster movies far darker than Francis Coppola’s The Godfather series just a decade before. One of the primary reasons is because of de Palma’s direction. Continue reading →
Director Sydney Lumet‘s 1973 undercover police drama Serpico earned Al Pacino his second Oscar nomination for Best Actor. While it was another in a long-running streak of Oscar nominations for Pacino that resulted in no wins until 1992’s Scent of a Woman, Serpico‘s other Oscar nomination was for Best Adapted Screenplay for screenwriters Waldo Salt (Midnight Cowboy, The Day of the Locust) and Norman Wexler (Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive). Although Serpico proved to be the last Oscar-worthy project of Wexler’s, Waldo Salt had a much longer, and much darker story in Hollywood screenwriting history.
Waldo Salt was born on October 18, 1914 and grew up in Chicago an accomplished academic. He was so accomplished, in fact, that he graduated from Stanford University at the same time his friends were graduating from high school. Shortly thereafter, Salt was in Hollywood working as a screenwriter for MGM. There he worked on and assisted with various writing projects, but his first solo writing adaptation was with a 1937 film called The Bride Wore Red. The next year, Salt joined the American Communist Party, putting himself on the radar for the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare/McCarthy era 12 years later. Continue reading →
On September 30, 1948, actor Robert Mitchum (Story of G.I. Joe, Cape Fear) was released from prison following his charge of marijuana possession. Mitchum was an up-and-coming star in Hollywood. He had received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor two years earlier for his role in Story of G.I. Joe, and appeared in four feature films in 1947, including Pursued, Crossfire, Desire Me, and Out of the Past. He also worked with director Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story) in a western film earlier in 1948 called Blood on the Moon. His recent string of success, however, only made his bust on September 1st that much worse.
Mitchum was found with actress Lila Leeds (Lady in the Lake, Wild Weed) and dancer Vicki Evans. With the 60s still more than a decade out, and public opinion towards marijuana still very much in the light of propaganda films like Reefer Madness (1936), the young actor feared the very public arrest would effectively end his acting career. It didn’t help that industry names like Howard Hughes (Scarface, The Outlaw), David O. Selznick (King Kong, Gone with the Wind), and the press constantly berated him during this period. But his famous bust that could have completely ended his career ended up doing just the opposite. Continue reading →
On September 20, 1956, director William Wyler‘s Friendly Persuasion was released in theaters in the United States. Based on the book by Jessamyn West, the story revolves around a Quaker family in 1862, whose faith and belief in non-violence is tested when Confederate troops come sweeping through their land and the family must decide whether to fight or to remain complacent. The film was written by screenwriter Michael Wilson (A Place in the Sun, Planet of the Apes), and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenwriting. It wasn’t until 2002, however, that Wilson would receive legitimate recognition for his work on the film. Continue reading →
Legendary comedic actor Gene Wilder, best known for his roles in films like Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, passed away Monday after a struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. The actor was twice nominated for an Academy Award, one for his role in The Producers and the other as co-writer with Mel Brooks for Young Frankenstein. Wilder first gained attention in a production of Off Broadway’s Roots in 1961. He then continued working in television and on Broadway for a number of years, where he first caught the eye of filmmaker Mel Brooks. The actor starred in a production of Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 before teaming up with Brooks for his breakout role in The Producers, which earned him his first nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Continue reading →
Today in movie history, revered editor and sound engineer Walter Murch was born in New York City in 1943. Murch first gained momentum in the film industry working with Oscar-winner Francis Ford Coppola on his film The Rain People (1969) before going on to work with George Lucas on THX1138 (1971) and American Graffiti (1973). He then furthered his professional relationship with Coppola working on films like The Godfather Part II (1974) and The Conversation (1974), the latter which earned him his first Academy Award nomination. His first major contribution to film came on Coppola’s iconic Vietnam drama, Apocalypse Now (1979), for which he won his first Oscar. Murch used a multi-track recording system to create new sounds that invoked both physical tension and psychological drama against the back-drop of Coppola’s war epic. Murch went on to serve as both sound and picture editor for numerous films, winning double Oscars for The English Patient in 1996 for Best Editor and Best Sound Editor. His work with Coppola continued throughout his career, working on films like The Godfather Part III (1990) and Tetro (2009); he also received a double Oscar-nomination in 1990 for The Godfather Part III and Ghost with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. Continue reading →
Taking a moment to appreciate the artistry behind acting, I’d like to highlight some of the most memorable, if not noteworthy monologues ever seen on the big screen. Traditionally, a monologue is a long speech delivered by an actor of the stage or screen, during which either a climactic realization is reached or a larger audience is being addressed. I’ll begin with what I consider to be one of the greatest (if not the greatest) films ever made, Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Godfather Part II. The Godfather Part II is known as the most successful movie sequel of all time, earning a total of 11 Academy Award nominations and winning 6. Among the nominees was method-actor Lee Strasberg, who co-founded the Group Theatre in 1931 and became director of the Actors Studio in 1950. Strasberg influenced a new generation of stage actors, including up-and-coming Broadway actor Al Pacino. When Pacino broke into film with The Godfather and was brought back for Part II, he asked Coppola to cast his mentor Strasberg in the supporting cast. Strasberg took the role of mob-boss Hyman Roth, and earned one of the film’s Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor. Continue reading →
Character actor Abe Vigoda passed away earlier this week at the age of 94. According to his daughter, Carol Vigoda Fuchs, the actor died peacefully and had not been suffering from any illnesses. Vigoda spent years working in the New York theater scene before he was cast as the mafia hitman Sal Tessio in Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Godfather. Following the huge success of The Godfather, and The Godfather Part II, Vigoda was cast as Detective Phil Fish in 1975 on the show Barney Miller, which ran until 1982 and earned Vigoda three Emmy Award nominations in 1976, 1977, and 1978 respectively. Ironically enough, the announcement of his death re-sparked an old controversy about whether or not the actor was still alive: a false report stating that Vigoda had died was published in 1986, igniting a controversy among movie-goers and fans as to whether or not the actor was really still alive or had actually died. A website dedicated to Google searches for ‘Is Abe Vigoda really dead?’ was updated this week to respond ‘Yes.’ Regardless of his questionable death status, Vigoda’s roles and contributions to film will be remembered by his co-stars like Al Pacino (Serpico, Heat), Robert Duvall (Apocalypse Now, The Judge), and Hal Linden (Barney Miller, Out To Sea). Abe, you will be missed!
A new drama from Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Flight) titled The Walk is opening in theaters Friday, October 9th. The film is based on the 2008 documentary Man on Wire by director James Marsh, an adaptation of Philippe Petit‘s novel, which chronicles Petit’s illegal tightrope walk across the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Petit’s successful endeavor came to be referred to as “the artistic crime of the century”, and years later Man on Wire would receive an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2009. The new film by Zemeckis is in the form of an actual drama, and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) as Petit, with Charlotte Le Bon (Mood Indigo, The Hundred-Foot Journey), James Badge Dale (The Departed, Flight), and Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley (Ghandi, Shutter Island) in the supporting cast. Zemeckis and screenwriter Christopher Browne (Pupil, Operation Barn Owl) adapted the script from Petit’s novel To Reach The Clouds. From the looks of the trailer it looks pretty suspenseful, but also loaded with more CGI than I would have expected. But Gordon-Levitt does seem to pull off a decent French accent and we are talking about a Zemeckis picture here, it will likely turn out better than we’re all expecting! Additional information on this new film can be found at the link below. Enjoy!
Actor and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney is best known for the acclaimed The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy and studied theater at Chicago’s DePaul University.
Writer/director Barry Jenkins (Medicine For Melancholy, Futurestates) will begin filming his own adaptation of the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney in Miami this fall. Simply titled Moonlight, the film follows a young man, Chiron, in 1980s Miami during the War on Drugs at three important moments in his life as he deals with a rough home-life and his developing sexuality. Additional casting for the film is currently underway and Indie film production company A24, which is also behind this year’s Ex Machina and Amy, will be teaming up with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Productions to finance the project. Adele Romanski (Bad Milo, War Story) will also serve as the film’s producer. This will be the second major production for director Jenkins, whose Medicine For Melancholy received much critical praise in 2008 when it was first seen at the SXSW Film Festival in 2008. Actor and playwright Terell Alvin McCraney was born in Miami, Florida in 1980 and attended the Theater School at Chicago’s DePaul University, graduating with a BFA in acting and receiving the Sarah Siddons Award in 2003. We’ll keep an eye out for additional news.