Archive for movies


Tears of a Class Clown

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“I try to keep my sadness hid
Smiling in the public eye
But in my lonely room cry
the tears of a clown.”

I don’t generally like to start blog posts or columns with quotes or song lyrics. I have often looked at that sort of thing as a cheap, hackneyed stunt.
But the first thing I thought of upon hearing the news of Robin Williams’ death by suicide was the iconic song by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “Tears of a Clown.”
So I thought it would be appropriate to lead this post with a portion of Smokey’s lyrics, because how can you read them and not think of Williams and the many comedians before him who made their living making us laugh while at the same time battling inner demons?
Williams, 63, apparently hanged himself at his California home, sometime between 10:30 p.m. Sunday night and 10:30 a.m. Monday morning.
His manager said Williams was battling “severe depression” lately.
It is fascinating to me, how many tormented “funny men” have graced the stages of comedy clubs, Broadway houses and television specials practically from the time the first brave soul decided to stand in front of a crowd and crack jokes.
There must be some corollary between the thrill of getting laughs on stage and being shy, lacking of self-esteem and, frankly, sad.
Williams, of course, was more than a comedian. He started out playing an alien on a TV sitcom and turned out to be a whale of a dramatic actor who had a knack for playing lovable, vulnerable characters with a big heart.
He was also likely the most manic guest in TV talk show history.
A Williams appearance on Carson or Leno should have required the viewer to be asked to buckle up and put the tray in the upright position.
It was a six-minute exercise in non-stop tidbits, impersonations and story telling, and Williams never sat still during any of it. In fact, he usually wasn’t sitting at all.
He made me nervous, truth be told, as a talk show guest but the crowd (and the host) always ate up Williams’ shtick.
Williams, again like so many fellow comedians, got lost in substance abuse, which likely didn’t do his depression symptoms any good.
He returned to TV full-time last fall in “The Crazy Ones,” playing a quirky ad agency man who works with his daughter. The series was Williams’ first foray on the small screen as a lead character since his days on “Mork and Mindy” from 1978-82.
But the new series couldn’t come close to shaking Williams out of the deep and irreversible funk of depression that would ultimately prompt him to take his own life.

I suspect that comedians and actors who cause moviegoers and viewers to feel a wide range of emotions are often feeling wide ranges of emotions themselves. Their roller coaster sometimes makes one too many bumps and they fly out of the car.

Williams may have been lonely but he wasn’t alone. He was a family man—a husband and a father three times over. His friends and colleagues described him—especially in the wake of his death—as kind, compassionate and with a huge heart.
So here we are—the man who dedicated himself to lifting the spirits of others, unable to lift his own.
When someone takes their own life, those who don’t know the pain figure that there must have been a viable alternative.
But here’s the punch line—the suicide victim instead thinks that the viable alternative that we espouse is a death sentence of sorts, anyway. So why keep going?
Billy Crystal, longtime friend and co-host of “Comic Relief” with Williams and Whoopi Goldberg for 20 years, had maybe the most appropriate tweet after learning of the news.
“No words.”
Fitting, because Robin Williams didn’t need too many to make us laugh or cry.
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Tall, Dark and Oklahoman

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James Garner was once asked if he’d ever do a nude scene on camera.

“I don’t do horror movies,” he said.

Rim shot.

Garner, who died on Saturday at age 86, was a Hollywood leading man but a humble Oklahoman at heart.

“I got into the business to put a roof over my head,” he once said. “I wasn’t looking for star status. I just wanted to keep working.”

And work he did, especially in the 1960s, when Garner was often teamed with the biggest female names in movies, such as Doris Day (Rock Hudson is more famously connected with Day, but Garner did his fair share with her as well), Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and Kim Novak.

The film boom for Garner was set up by his work in TV’s Maverick, in which he starred from 1957-60, playing old Western card shark and ladies man Bret Maverick. The show went toe-to-toe on Sunday nights with The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show, more than holding its own.

If you were a casting director and could mail order a leading man, Garner would arrive at your office.

He was tall, dark and handsome, and possessed a self-effacing style bereft of cockiness. His Oklahoma lilt, which he never tried to disguise, added to the down home feel that just about all of his characters had.

Garner, left, with Jack Kelly as Bret and Bart Maverick

Garner, for a brief time, even dabbled in auto racing, an interest that was piqued when he co-starred in 1966′s Grand Prix. Garner thus joined Steve McQueen and Paul Newman as actors/racers.

But mention James Garner, and even today the first thing likely to spill from peoples’ lips is The Rockford Files, NBC’s series that ran from 1974-80. Loosely based on Garner’s Bret Maverick, brought into modern times, the private investigator Jim Rockford character landed Garner an Emmy Award in 1977.

Some old-timers like yours truly will also recall Garner in a popular series of Polaroid TV commercials in the late-1970s, early-1980s, sharing the screen with Mariette Hartley. The chemistry between the two was so genuine that many viewers thought the pair was married in real life, even though the commercials never really suggested that they were playing a wedded couple.

Garner left The Rockford Files in 1980, not because of poor ratings or disenchantment with the show, but because of the physical toll. Garner, who was an athlete in high school (football and basketball), insisted on doing his own stunts, and the result was significant damage to his knees and back.

In his later years, Garner really used his tall Oklahoman stature to his advantage, often playing rugged, wise cowboys and fatherly and grandfatherly figures. His characters would occasionally fall in love as well.

Speaking of falling in love, Garner did that well, too—and fast. He married Lois Clarke in 1956—just two weeks after they met. He remained married to her until his death.

Despite his own stable marriage, Garner once offered that “Marriage is like the Army. Everyone complains. But you’d be surprised at the large number of people who re-enlist.”

And to show how much Bret Maverick resonated in Garner’s hometown of Norman, Oklahoma, the city unveiled a 10-foot tall bronze statue of the actor as Maverick in 2006, with Garner present for the ceremony.

Garner once explained his acting theory, such as it was.

“I’m a Spencer Tracy-type actor. His idea was to be on time, know your words, hit your marks and tell the truth. Most every actor tries to make it something it isn’t [or] looks for the easy way out. I don’t think acting is that difficult if you can put yourself aside and do what the writer wrote.”

Here’s the irony in Garner’s words: he may have been acting and “putting himself aside,” but to watch him on screen was to have the feeling that James Garner was just being James Garner.

He could have done much worse. And so could have we.

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Movies No-Longer-On-Demand

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The corner video store has turned into the city video store.

Time was that you couldn’t walk much more than 500 feet in any direction without running smack into a joint that rented VHS tapes. Then, you couldn’t walk much more than 2,000 feet without running into a place that rented DVDs.

Now, you can drive for most of a Sunday afternoon without seeing more than a couple video stores.

They close all the time these days, but locally there is a closing that might tug on some heart strings.

I used to go out of my way to venture into Thomas Video. So did everyone else, because there was only one Thomas Video—literally and figuratively.

Thomas Video, the favorite of the intense B-movie fan, is closing up shop. To many, this is like the news of a loved one with a terminal disease passing away. You knew it was coming.

Thomas Video has been located in Royal Oak since 2009, but I remember visiting when it was on Main Street, south of 14 Mile Road, in Clawson.

Like I said, I went out of my way, even when I lived in Warren from 1995-2007.

I went out of my way because there was no place like Thomas Video (TV).

It wasn’t so much about renting movies (maybe that was part of why they went out of business) as it was just taking it all in.

The lighting was drab, the place was littered with old, museum-like television sets and the videos were stuffed onto shelves in a sort of haphazard way. But the appeal was great.

Thomas Video was a destination spot because they carried movies and shlock that no other so-called “big box” store would dare touch.

I’m not talking about Godzilla movies from the 1960s. That was child’s play for TV.

You had to be a hard-core movie historian or dweeb to have heard of half the titles that TV stocked.

There were also shelves upon shelves of hard-to-find industry magazines and books. There was also an impressive selection of comic books, almost as a complement to the movies—or maybe to keep with the nerdy theme.

Personally, I only rented a few titles. I mainly went there to browse. Maybe in a way I am partly responsible for the store’s closing.

Even TV’s owners saw the writing on the wall.

“We probably should have done this a long time ago,” co-owner Jim Olenski told the Detroit Free Press. “Business has been really bad over the last few years.”

TV started in 1977, right about when home video started to take off. But Olenski blames video-on-demand, NetFlix and other movie-viewing platforms for chomping into TV’s customer base.

Thomas Video co-owner Jim Olenski in the late-1990s

The sad irony is that while those methods of watching movies have indeed taken down a bunch of video stores, TV prided itself on notbeing one of the bunch.

The appeal of Thomas Video was that you could find titles there that literally no one else offered. Yet that novelty wasn’t enough to keep TV going, apparently.

TV wasn’t just a store for hard-to-find titles. It also functioned as an intimate location for cult celebrities like The Ghoul and actor Bruce Campbell (“Evil Dead”) to hang out and sign autographs.

Olenski put it best, in a self-tribute to him and partner Gary Reichel.

“We wanted to be the last video store standing, and we almost were.”

Olenski and Reichel did better than many others who didn’t have the guts or the vision to stock the titles that Thomas Video offered.

In fact, maybe that’s why they survived for as long as they did.

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Oscar’s Weiners

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The distinctly debonair, razor-thin, legendary British actor was in the middle of his scripted bit of monologue when suddenly the crowd was in an uproar.

It was 1974, in the middle of an American craze that inexplicably had caught on ever-so-briefly, as so many other American crazes seem to do—-inexplicably.

This particular craze was called “streaking,” or running naked through a very public place. The nation’s ballparks and football stadiums, to name just a couple venues, were being overrun by those sans clothing, making their mad dashes.

And now the Academy Awards show was being interrupted by a streaker. He was male, even if just barely.

David Niven, startled by the sudden burst of hoots and howls from the audience, turned and looked to see what the commotion was all about. A streaker was moving behind him, across the stage, flashing the “peace” sign with his fingers.

Straying off script, Niven commented with spot-on—as they say in his country—comedic timing.

With typical British cool among chaos, Niven quipped, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen… But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”


The Academy Awards—better known as The Oscars—are on this Sunday. Niven’s streaker incident was hardly the first time that the Awards were used to showcase one’s, ahem, views. Nor would it be the last.

Actors have used their acceptance speeches to push political agendas. Marlon Brando sent a supposed Native American (it’s been widely suspected that she was merely another actor, ironically) to refuse to accept his Best Actor Award for “Godfather”, purportedly in protest of the country’s treatment of American Indians.

George C. Scott declined his Best Actor Oscar for “Patton” because he didn’t like the political machinations of the Awards themselves. So he stayed home and watched a hockey game. True story.

Woody Allen made news by deliberately declining to attend the Oscars when “Annie Hall” was up for Best Picture, so he could keep a weekly clarinet-playing date in a New York club.

Those are just a few examples.

Others have put their foot in their mouths accidentally in acceptance of their awards, blurting out curse words or other untoward, awkward things. 

And who can forget Sally Field’s, “You LIKE me! You really LIKE me!”?

Personally, I enjoy watching the Oscars, but mainly to pick them apart. I guess I’m masochistic that way.

I hope to be entertained and laugh along the way, however. With Ellen DeGeneres hosting this year, the odds of that happening are good.

I also look forward to the montage of those in the film industry who we lost since the last Oscars. Invariably there’s someone about who my wife and I will look at each other and say, “(Fill in the blank) DIED? I didn’t know that!”

Even the montage has angered me in the past. The omission of Farrah Fawcett several years ago still rankles me.

Yes, the ceremony is notorious for running long and some of the speeches are boring and still others will make you squirm a little, but there are also some kick-ass ones as well.

Watching the Oscars is probably like sitting in the kitchen and eating ice cream right out of the carton, but it only comes once a year, so view with impunity.

Now…if they could only move it to Saturday night. The damn thing goes past midnight and people have to work the next day, don’t you know!

Oh, and here’s the famous Niven clip.

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Second City’s First Man of Comedy

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There’s a certain delicate symmetry when a person’s birth city and death city are the same.

Harold Ramis has such a line on his biography.

Born: November 21, 1944; Chicago, IL.

Died: February 24, 2014; Chicago, IL.

Ramis, the comedic actor/director who passed away Monday from a rare and painful vascular disease, was as Chicago as wind, deep dish pizza and crooked elections. If you cracked him open you’d have found a Cubs cap and a megaphone.

Ramis was always smirking. He had that twinkle in his eye, as if he knew something you didn’t. When it came to movie making and laugh making, he did.

Ramis was one of the leaders of a band of merry men and women who yukked it up at the original Second City improvisational theater group in Chicago, starting in the late-1960s. He was hardly alone when it came to finding fame later, but his imprint on American filmmaking puts him near the head of the class.

Ramis’s first role on the big screen saw him smirking all the way through 1981′s “Stripes,” the comedy he co-wrote and starred in with Bill Murray, directed by Ivan Reitman. Three years later, Ramis again took to the typewriter—this time with co-star Dan Aykroyd—and wrote “Ghostbusters.”

As the years went on, Ramis found more fortune staying behind the scenes, writing killer dialogue, physical comedy and directing the same.

Ramis’s body of work as a writer and/or director reads like so many film critics’ Top 25 lists of comedy vehicles.

“Caddyshack”; “National Lampoon’s Vacation”; “Groundhog Day”; “Analyze This”; “Analyze That”; “Meatballs”; “Stripes”; “Ghostbusters”; “The Office” (TV); “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”

That’s some serious comedy, right there. Iconic stuff.

And, of course, there was the transformation of Second City’s magic of improv from stage to small screen, when Ramis was a lead writer in the 1970s and ’80s on “SCTV,” produced out of Canada, when Toronto joined Chicago as a major contributor of raw talent that would go on to bigger and better things.

You’ve heard of John Candy, right?

Ramis spun his work off “SCTV” and made his foray into film, and we laughed and laughed.

Harold Ramis: 1944-2014

In the “I am not making this up” department, Ramis once worked in a mental institution in St. Louis for seven months.

“(The experience) prepared me well for when I went out towork with actors,” Ramis once said. “People laugh when I say that, but it was actually very good training. And not just with actors; it was good training for just living in the world. It’s knowing how to deal with people who might be reacting in a way that’s connected to anxiety or grief or fear or rage. As a director, you’re dealing with that constantly with actors.”

Sadly, the man who brought us to tears of laughter and split our sides so often, had a painful and debilitating end as he battled his rare vascular disease.

Vasculitis develops when the body’s immune system turns on its network of veins and arteries. Blood vessels become inflamed, restricting the flow of blood or cutting it off entirely, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Ramis was first diagnosed a few years ago.

Coming from someone who should know, having worn both hats, Harold Ramis once gave his analysis of the roles of writer and director.

“I always claim that the writer has done 90 percent of the director’s work.”

However you choose to slice it, there’s no number crunching needed with this: Harold Ramis made people laugh.

Today, Chicago is a little less windy, the deep dish pizza a little colder. Even the Cubs are worse off.

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Shirley She’ll Never Die

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In today’s world, an entertainer who peaks at the age of 10 has a good chance of being on the police blotter before he or she is able to legally vote.

Shirley Temple spent her childhood under hot lights, in front of cameras and in the hearts of American movie goers across the country. Yet she didn’t spend her adult life in debt, on drugs or behind bars.

Shirley Temple was everyone’s sweetheart. She had the entire country in the palm of her tiny hand. Her hair was more curly than a corkscrew. She had dimples as deep as the Grand Canyon, a smile as bright as all the lights on Broadway put together.

They named a drink after her—non-alcoholic, of course. She was intoxicating all by herself.

It’s almost unfathomable to imagine a girl of Shirley Temple’s prepubescent age today, captivating America and being able to stay on the straight and narrow once the audiences stopped paying attention.

Few child stars, if any, exited show business as gracefully as Shirley Temple. She retired officially in 1950, at the age of 22, and eased into private life without any drama. Her work was done, her imprint on our hearts indelible. She made a few films past adolescence, but it was clear that audiences preferred the child Shirley to the young woman Shirley. So she got out, without a hint of bitterness or resentment.

Temple even survived being married at age 17, which is another life-changing moment that many young stars today wouldn’t have been able to negotiate at such a young age. But Temple managed to stay hitched to Army Air Corps sergeant John Agar for five years, even birthing a child. Her next marriage lasted 55 years.

Temple, who became known as Shirley Temple Black after her second marriage, passed away Monday at 85. It was a good life.

She got interested in politics in the 1960s, and while she wasn’t able to ascend to any elected office, Temple Black did serve five total years as the United States’ ambassador to Ghana (1974-76) and Czechoslovakia (1989-92).

There were also numerous corporate boards of directors that Temple Black served on, including The Walt Disney Company, Del Monte, Bank of America and Fireman’s Fund Insurance.

But while her life as a big girl was one lived in dignity and distinction, it is as a child that Shirley Temple lives forever in our minds.

Who among us can’t close our eyes and imagine Shirley belting out “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” her signature song?


Shirley Temple’s obituary may say that she was 85 years old at her death, but she never grew up. To us, she’ll always be that little girl with the curly, blonde hair, melting hearts left and right.

She was the child star who kept it together. Temple saw the curtain close on her career at 22 and she simply moved on. She was a woman of many interests and of high intelligence. There was plenty more that she wanted to do, and she did it.

She moved on after show business, having had her time and secure with the realization that nothing can last forever, especially a career in movies that began at the tender age of three.

But therein lies the irony. Her career really did last forever, thanks to celluloid, reruns and our eagerness to keep her as a little girl forever in our minds.

Shirley Temple blew through movies for about six mega years like a tornado, but instead of leaving destruction in her wake, she left smiles and melted hearts.

You can put a Shirley Temple flick on today and it’s impossible not to smile.

With all due respect to her work in Ghana and Czechoslovakia, Shirley Temple was, in fact, America’s Ambassador of Cuteness.

Her legacy is one not stained by eventual juvenile delinquency, immaturity or drugs and alcohol. She wasn’t Judy Garland.

Shirley Temple was a star as a child, and a success as an adult. She lived the good life for 85 years.

She was one of those entertainers who won’t ever truly die. Her curls and dimples simply won’t allow it.

Categories : Enotes, Entertainment, movies
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Caught Dead—After 23 Years

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Heroin chased Philip Seymour Hoffman down for over 20 years. The tireless drug finally caught him.

Drug addiction, like alcoholism, cancer and other terminal diseases, is patient. It’ll wait you out. If you think your body is in the Addict Protection Program, you’re sorely mistaken.

Once you’ve shown yourself to partake in its vice, you’re on the list.

Can you beat it? Can you stay ahead of it? Sure—but addiction’s won/loss record is stellar.

Heroin beat Hoffman, the actor/director who was found dead in his Manhattan apartment Sunday at the age of 46, reportedly with a syringe still stuck in his arm.

The news of the death of an artist before his or her time comes in stages.

First is, of course, shock.

I came home from one of my daily walks with our pooch yesterday when our daughter broke the news.

“Philip Seymour Hoffman died,” she said plainly.

I reacted the way I’m sure millions did.

“WHAT?” was all I said.

That’s Stage One.

In Stage Two, details—real and imagined—dribble out and are spread onto social media. The key in this stage is to separate the facts from the rumors and speculation.

In Stage Three, reports become confirmed and the information has been run through the proper filtration system, leaving the cold hard facts. Rumors are debunked and facts become crystallized.

So we know this. Hoffman was last seen alive on Saturday night around 8:00 p.m. When he failed to show up the next morning to pick up his children, red flags were raised. Then, Hoffman was found on the floor of his bathroom, dead of an apparent drug overdose and stuck with the needle, presumably self-inflicted.

It’s not unlike how edgy and often profane comedian Lenny Bruce was found. Bruce was 40 when he too was discovered on a bathroom floor, dead and with shooting up paraphernalia nearby.

It was the great columnist Dick Schaap—normally known for his sportswriting—who said it all about Bruce’s death in a much-publicized obituary.

“Here’s one more four-letter word for you, Lenny,” Schaap wrote. “D-E-A-D, at age 40.”

Hoffman tried to outrun heroin and other substance abuse and addiction. He was able to keep ahead of it for 23 years. But then a relapse a couple years ago sent him into rehab. Hoffman got tired; heroin was as fresh as a daisy. Police reports say that between 50 and 70 packets of heroin were found in Hoffman’s apartment, after they cleared his body out.

If that’s true, then it was only a matter of time before heroin put another in the W column.

For a terrific take on Hoffman the actor, I urge you to read this piece by my friend and pop culture writer Ian Casselberry, who nails Hoffman’s eclectic career and who astutely points out that while Hoffman may not have had that “signature role,” his career was no less magnificent.

The worst part of losing someone like Hoffman at 46—whether it was self-inflicted or not— is the life sentence we have been saddled with of wondering “What if?” about his career.

It’s Heath Ledger-ish.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: 1967-2014

The greatest actor of our time, Johnny Depp, is approximately Hoffman’s age. And, like Hoffman, when you think of Depp you realize that he has never looked the same way twice on the screen. The range and the versatility are mind-boggling.

It was the same with Hoffman. As Ian Casselberry wrote,“Where do you begin with Hoffman and his career? Did he have a signature role or was he just the classic working actor, willing to try just about anything?”

wasn’t anything signature about his acting. His dizzying array of roles, accumulated in relatively short order, is his legacy.

But Hoffman was also a junkie. Let’s face it. He ran from it, ran for over two decades.

He left everything he had on the screen, and maybe that’s why there wasn’t much left for anything else—like staying off blow.

To paraphrase Dick Schaap: Philip Seymour Hoffman—D-E-A-D at age 46.

How profane indeed.

Categories : Enotes, Entertainment, movies
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The Voice(s) of Treason?

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The good news about Seth MacFarlane as the host of the Oscars telecast is that the producers can save a ton of money.

MacFarlane, he of many voices and characters, isn’t just one man. He’s his own talent pool. He’s an R-rated Mel Blanc.

It was announced Monday that MacFarlane, creator of the popular animated TV series “Family Guy,” and the source for many of the show’s voices, will host the 2013 Oscars telecast.

Who needs Steve Martin or Billy Crystal? They’re one trick ponies (or, one pony each, anyway), while MacFarlane will never run out of voices and characters, not even during Oscar’s sometimes interminable telecasts.

MacFarlane doesn’t just do voices. He does TV shows—as in he produces them. Besides “Family Guy,” MacFarlane has his fingers in the pies of “American Dad!” and “The Cleveland Show” (all animated).

The hiring of MacFarlane signals an attempt by Oscars producers to go after a younger, more hip demographic. MacFarlane, who recently hosted “Saturday Night Live,” can be seen on occasion on Comedy Central’s celebrity roasts—and he’s pretty funny. His humor is edgy and pushes the proverbial envelope on occasion.

And he appreciates the gig.

MacFarlane calls the Oscars hosting opportunity “the greatest call that I could have gotten in show business.” He was a presenter in 2012.

If you’re tilting your head and looking at the screen sideways, like a confused dog, Oscars co-producer Neil Meron feels you. He called MacFarlane “the most unbelievable, consummate host choice we could think of.”

Well, as far as unbelievable, maybe the ill-chosen Anne Hathaway and James Franco pairing of 2011 takes that cake.

Seth MacFarlane

It’s hard to say if the MacFarlane we will see on Oscar night will be a watered down version. Despite the seeming boldness of the pick, you never know if the producers will “chicken out” a little as the telecast grows nearer, and present a MacFarlane that is more suitable for audiences of all ages.

The Oscar audience, on TV, is still heavily populated with the 50+ crowd (might want to add a few pluses, actually), and MacFarlane and his shows are not necessarily an older person’s cup of tea.

That’s why Crystal was so popular; he played well with the older crowd. Steve Martin was transitional. Seth MacFarlane is an extreme.

Will it work? Well, the worst that can happen is that they don’t ask him back.

Actually, that’s not the worst that can happen. The producers ought not to ponder the worst. That could be a little scary.

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Johnny Dangerously?

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The Greatest Actor Alive Today has played an effeminate pirate; John Dillinger; an undercover Fed trying to bust the mob; a young man with scissors for fingers; the Mad Hatter; and that’s just for starters.

What he hasn’t done, despite all that range and the sometimes cartoon-like qualities of the characters he’s portrayed, is sparked a whole lot of controversy.

Johnny Depp, The Greatest Actor Alive Today, will be appearing as Tonto in a new Disney movie about the Lone Ranger. It’s a Jerry Bruckheimer project. And while that has many Deppophiles licking their chops, it has one group a little on edge.

Those would be the Native Americans, a segment of whom have been a little queasy ever since Bruckheimer Tweeted a photo of Depp in his Tonto garb, complete with face paint, feathers, the whole shot.

“The moment it hit my Facebook newsfeed, the updates from my friends went nutso,” wrote Natanya Ann Pulley, a doctorate student at University of Utah, in an essay for the online magazine McSweeney’s.

According to the Associated Press, for Pulley and her friends, the portrayal of Native Americans in Western movies is getting old.

“I’m worried about the Tonto figure becoming a parody or a commercialized figure that doesn’t have any dimension or depth. Or consideration for contemporary context of Native Americans,” she said.

What’s funny is that Depp has played so many different characters in so much scene-chewing glory but has never really brought the ire of any particular group.

Until now—maybe.

Just because some Native Americans have a problem with Tonto’s return to the big screen, that doesn’t mean Bruckheimer and Depp have alienate the entire brethren.

According to the AP, in New Mexico, where some of the movie was filmed, the Navajo presented Depp, his co-star Armie Hammer, director Gore Verbinski and Bruckheimer with Pendleton blankets to welcome them to their land. Elsewhere, the Comanche people of Oklahoma made Depp, one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, an honorary member.

“In my niece’s mind, I met Jack Sparrow,” said Emerald Dahozy, spokeswoman for Navajo President Ben Shelly and a member of the Navajo group who met with Depp. “My personal view, I like him playing in a character which he can embody well.”

There’s also the matter of Depp being perhaps the most likable big box office star in recent memory—maybe ever.

Depp as Tonto in the 2013 Disney version of “The Lone Ranger”; Armie Hammer is the Lone Ranger

Stories abound of his generosity, with everyone from autograph seekers to curious kids who’ve commiserated with him on movie sets. He has sent them gifts, appeared at their school functions, and been just an all-around nice guy.

So maybe Depp’s nice guy image off screen will soften any indignation or blowback from his portrayal of Tonto—if there’s any necessary to begin with. Those who decry the film may change their mind once they actually see it.

The AP reports that Depp has said the film will be a “sort of rock ‘n’ roll version of the Lone Ranger” with his Tonto offering a different take from the 1950s show.

That would appear to be a step in the right direction, right there—for those worried of any over-the-top stereotyping.

The film is slated for a 2013 release, and the cost is already at $200 million—before all the marketing costs.

Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana who lives and has family in the Suquamish Tribe, outside Seattle, said, “I’m not sure how much redefining I’m going to expect, not sure how much of the movie will be something I can show my son.”

Maybe he’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Categories : Enotes, Entertainment, movies
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Remembering Ernie Borgnine

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(in honor of the passing of actor Ernest Borgnine the other day at age 95, here is a piece I wrote about him on October 14, 2010)

The Importance of Being Ernest

The eyebrows have long ago gone gray but are still as bushy as the Serengeti. The nose is bulbous, the smile as gap-toothed as ever. The voice still sounds like it’s coming out of a cement mixer.

Ernie Borgnine was never an attractive man, unless you’re one of those who like creatures that are so ugly that they’re cute, like a koala bear.

Yet here Borgnine is, 93 and still we see his mug on the big screen.

Borgnine is one of those actors who was always old. “McHale’s Navy” debuted almost 50 years ago and Ernie looked old then.

It’s been 55 years since Borgnine made his mark in the film “Marty,” in which he played the title character, a warm-hearted butcher who was also a shameless mama’s boy. The film was an adaptation of the great teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky and earned Borgnine the Academy Award for Best Actor—beating out the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Cagney and Spencer Tracy, no less.

From then, Borgnine made a living in film playing rough-and-tumble characters in movies like “The Dirty Dozen,” “Ice Station Zebra,” “The Flight of the Phoenix,” and “The Vikings.”

Never more rough-and-tumble was he than in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” in 1969, where he famously played Dutch, one of the bunch.

Kids of my generation were likely introduced to Borgnine by watching “McHale’s Navy,” a TV comedy (1962-66) that featured an all-star ensemble cast, with Borgnine playing gruff Lt. Commander Quinton McHale. The role earned Borgnine an Emmy nomination.

Fun fact: “McHale’s Navy” started as a one-hour serious episode called “Seven Against the Sea” for the “Alcoa Premiere.”

Borgnine also played legendary football coach Vince Lombardi in a TV movie, and Ernie was likely the only actor available who didn’t require makeup artists to recreate Lombardi’s gapped front teeth.

Borgnine was also married VERY briefly—we’re talking about one month—to singer Ethel Merman, which I didn’t know until I looked it up.

Why all the love for Ernie Borgnine today? Two reasons.

Number one, Borgnine is in the new film “RED,” starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and the still stunning Helen Mirren. The movie opens on October 15.

Second, the Screen Actors Guild announced in August that it will be honoring Ernie on January 30, 2011 during the Academy Awards Show with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

I’d say he’s due. After all, as recently as 2009 Borgnine was still earning award nominations; he was recognized for a guest appearance on “ER” with an Emmy nomination. He was 92.

Borgnine is still feisty. Tired of being asked about the key to his longevity, Borgnine said during a TV interview recently that he stays young by masturbating twice daily. You heard me.

“I answered that question one time on Fox News,” Borgnine told WENN. “This fella kept bothering me all morning: ‘What do you do to keep yourself so worked up?’ Finally, I got sick and got tired and I forgot that I was miked. I reached over and replied, ‘I masturbate a lot!’

“I’ll tell ya, everybody dropped on the floor. They couldn’t believe it: ‘At 93, what the hell?’ Listen, hey who cares?”

But seriously, folks, Borgnine does have a secret, sort of, for still doing it seven years shy of 100.

“I keep active but I’m the laziest man in the world,” he says. “If I don’t have to move I don’t move. I also gave up meat about 35 years ago.”

Ernie Borgnine, a national treasure who’ll finally get his props in January.

I know I’ll be watching.

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