George Kennedy Gone at 91: They Don’t Make em Like That Anymore

George Kennedy’s death at 91 means that another one of those iconic legends that I and millions of others grew up watching on television (Saturday Night at the Movies) and later on the big screen is gone.

Still from the film The Dirty Dozen

George Kennedy’s death at 91 means that another one of those iconic legends that I and millions of others grew up watching on television (Saturday Night at the Movies) and later on the big screen is gone.  While it is a trite phrase, often overused, suffice to say that in Kennedy’s case, they really do not make em like that anymore.

The last film George Harris Kennedy worked on was the abysmal Mark Wahlberg remake of The Gambler. Watching the film’s screener for review I was shocked to see how old the Cool Hand Luke actor appeared. In my mind he was ageless.

The first time I ever saw Kennedy on screen was in the film The Sons of Katie Elder. He played the surly gunsel hired to “take care” of John Elder (Duke Wayne) and the huge man first meets Duke’s character as he plunges the town’s undertaker’s head repeatedly into a barrel of water. Curly’s high-pitched “piggy” giggle as he almost drowns the man is interrupted with John Elder’s shouted, “Hey” and an pickaxe handle in the face.

This scene was iconic enough that is has been repeated in other films, even Gremlins has  Zach Galligan’s character re-enact the scene but with a  sword.

The Sons of Katie Elder moment was not an isolated incident. Kennedy played characters whose actions stood out in films, whether they were award winning movies like Cool Hand Luke, or more pedestrian fare like Clint Eastwood’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (where Kennedy’s character rather nastily beats a young Lightfoot (Lloyd Bridges) so badly that the boy dies a lingering death), Kennedy was one of those actors who stood out.

George Kennedy could play comedy, as proven in his turns in the Naked Gun franchise as well as menacing bad men. He was equally at home as bluff good guys, snotty bad guys or  the “last” slave to shout “I am Spartacus,” in the 1960 film, Kennedy brought a truth and believability to all his roles.

The New York born son of a ballet dancer and musician/orchestra leader was equally home in any genre playing any role.  Regardless of the budget or the part, the Oscar winning actor made you believe him.

The cigar chomping airport savior, Patroni,  who clears off the snow in the 1970 film Airport where he shared screen credits with Dean Martin but not screen time.  He worked with Dino before  in Bandolero! as the lovesick sheriff July Johnson who chases Martin through Mexico.

Throughout a career that began in 1956 (The Phil Silvers Show) and ended with the 2014 film The Gambler the actor played cops, soldiers, murderers, heroes, convicts, and all manner of roles across the board.  Watching Kennedy accept his Oscar for Cool Hand Luke, one can see the innate gentleness on his face and in his voice, a trait that caused people to all him the nicest man in Hollywood.

Watching any of Kennedy’s performances is a lesson is acting and reacting. The actor could  convey a myriad of emotions with his eyes and face alone, dialogue was not required for this character actor to convince the viewer of his character’s veracity.

I was actually surprised into tears at the news of Kennedy’s passing. He was a firm favorite, and not just from the many westerns watched all those years ago on Saturday night television,  one who could always be counted upon to stand out and make his performance memorable, regardless of the film’s budget.

George Kennedy (1925 – 2016) a huge man whose six-foot four-inch frame was dwarfed by his ability to make us believe completely in his characters actions on screen big and small. They really do not “make em like that” anymore.

11.22.63: Review – Other Voices, Other Rooms: Slowing Things Down

In episode 3 of 11.22.63; Other Voices, Other Rooms, the Hulu series slows things down, while simultaneously pushing the plot up a notch, in terms of Oswald, Jake’s new helper and the romance between Epping/Amberson and Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon).

Jake and Billy listening in on Oswald

In episode 3 of 11.22.63; Other Voices, Other Rooms, the Hulu series slows things down, while simultaneously pushing the plot up a notch, in terms of Oswald, Jake’s new helper and the romance between Epping/Amberson and Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon). In this installment Bill Turcotte (George MacKay), whose sister was the first woman that Frank Dunning murdered, buys a ticket on Jake’s “man from the future” ride. 

The two team up and head to Jodie, Texas where Jake gets a job and meets Dunhill yet again and the attraction between the two is instantaneous after they get past “From Here to Eternity.”  The two people have a lot in common, both divorced, although Jake’s took place in 2016, and the attractive pair “know where the noses go.”

Sadie’s acceptance of jake’s fumbling and increasingly desperate apology for leaving her with 200 students to chaperone is a brilliant moment of romance that brings back memories of “that perfect” match moment.  Her straight-forward “Don’t ever do that to me again,” signals a woman who will take no guff from a man and sets up Dunhill as a strong female character that is attractive to boot.

Once again, the serendipity of the two meeting in Jodie, Texas where she just happens to be the new librarian at the school where Jake has been taken on as the English teacher, is not a good thing, surely. Placing a love interest so close to the future arena of conflict is the past pushing back, although the series is approaching it rather obliquely at this point.

Oswald (Daniel Webber) is an enigma of almost epic proportions. Controlling, a mommy’s boy, a man desperate for attention and, it seems, one who has mental issues as well. Out of the  two stressful events seen by the viewer Oswald reacts  differently.  Take for example his reaction to hearing  Jake and Billy in his apartment. Lee might have been furious at this invasion to his privacy, but it was a lucid and perfectly spoken rage. No slurring of words and no outbursts of violence. 

At the General Walker speech later on, however,   Oswald is slurring his words, stumbling around and is, at times, almost incoherent. Was the would-be assassin drugged or does he have a mental condition (the real Oswald was said to be very mentally troubled); a hidden ailment, not unlike Jack Ruby (who died of cancer after shooting Oswald in the real world)  that the CIA agent is taking advantage of.

The use of Japanese electronic devices is cute and the reminder of what 1960s Texas, and indeed the entire South, was like in terms of racism evokes anger and sadness in equal measure.  The treatment of Miss Mimi (played by Tonya Pinkins who is on FOX’s Gotham as Ethel Peabody) give two instances where Jake as outsider is first surprised then enraged at the treatment of this lady.

The coffee scene in the high school office where Epping (as Amberson) offers to pour Miss Mimi a cup of coffee is the first instance. The entire room stops in shocked silence at the lapse in 1960s protocol. Later, at the petrol station, the attendant flatly refuses to sell Mimi the fuel she needs, stating that she can go to the station in “N*****town.”

Jake reacts angrily and righteously by grabbing an empty gas can and fills it. He then lets Miss Mimi in his car after throwing money at the attendant.  Both of these incidents mark the time period perfectly for anyone who lived in the South, back in the day.

There is also an event triggered by a neighbor deciding that Billy and Jake are gay, something that comes back bite the duo later on. This incident is also evocative of the time period.

While this episode has slowed down the events, in order to bring things forward in terms of Oswald, it has the distinction of providing nail-biting suspense when the two men are trapped in the apartment while Marina (Lucy Fry) and Lee begin fooling around in the bedroom.  

As Billy and Jake become increasingly, desperate (Jake) and turned-on (Billy) the tension becomes almost unbearable. The moment they find their “way out” things do not diminish, as expected, but become more intense and damned hard to watch.

Jake has not yet realized that Sadie is yet another instance of the past pushing back as events move ahead to “that” day. Kudos on the excellent chemistry between Franco and Dunhill. Their romance feels spot-on, as it is meant to.

11.22.63 may not follow the book exactly (But then what adaption of King’s work has?) and thus far it does not really matter.  This version of King’s time travel tale entertains and keeps the viewer wanting more after each episode.  The series airs on Hulu Mondays, tune in and prepare to do a little white-knuckle viewing of this adaptation.

The Family: Episode 2 Continues Peeling Back Layers (Preview)

Episode two of The Family; All You See Is Dark, continues to peel back layers as the mystery around Adam (Liam James) deepens and brother Danny (Zach Gilford) seriously begins to question who this “stranger” is.

 ALISON PILL, RUPERT GRAVES, JOAN ALLEN

Episode two of The Family; All You See Is Dark, continues to peel back layers as the mystery around Adam (Liam James) deepens and brother Danny (Zach Gilford) seriously begins to question who this “stranger” is.  Just as puzzling, or disturbing if one listens to verbal clues as well as those “revealing” flashbacks, is where Hank (Andrew McCarthyreally fits in all this as the symbol of a gross miscarriage of justice.

This new series on ABC promises to be more than just a mystery that needs solving, it is a melding of genres. Suspense, thriller and crime all join ranks with mystery and there is a good bit of psychological intensity running though out.

Mayor Claire Warren (Joan Allen) proves to be in denial while struggling to control her son’s rehabilitation and the stress levels threaten to undo her electoral plans.  Detective Meyer (Margot Bingham) is obsessed with finding the real abductor of Adam and on top of fighting her personal issues with her wrongful conviction years before, also has to fight her boss for time.

It is a fight that the detective loses when the FBI is called in.

ANDREW MCCARTHY
Hank upsetting Claire with his poor choice of words.

Willa Warren (Alison Pill) continues to control things, unobtrusively protecting her mother, father and brothers, although her motives are, at this point,  unclear. Just as she stepped in 10 years previously it seems that Willa will do anything to keep the Warren family safe from its own secrets. 

It is even revealed that a 13 year-old Willa censored her father’s emails and texts when she approaches dad John (Rupert Graves) in present day to ask a favor. She tells her aghast father that at 13, she had no idea what the phrase “inside of you” meant but she dealt with it. 

The Family does not just present an American tragedy with a mystery to be solved. It also shows how the death of a child thought to be murdered by a pedophile opens a sort of Pandora’s Box of emotionally charged reactions.  The players in this drama have all become intertwined as well as affected by the events.

The cop, whose career is made by this case, is sexually involved with a family member. When the murdered boy returns from the dead, as it were, her guilt at helping to convict the next door neighbor, who was on the sexual offender register, is all consuming.

RUPERT GRAVES, ZACH GILFORD
John pushing a reluctant Danny to spend time with Adam.

The returned boy appears to be working hard to convince his older brother of his pedigree. Bringing up memories of childhood events and items but failing to recognize things that the real Adam should know.

Episode two, All You See Is Dark continues the back and forth jumps in time-lines as it moves forward with Meyer trying to find out what really happened 10 years ago. We see Claire Warren verbally attacking Hank on the night she appealed for help finding Adam.

The reason?

When Hank brings over muffins (at his mother’s insistence) as gesture of goodwill, he states that Adam “was” a good boy.  This 10 year-old statement screams of his guilt in Claire’s eyes.  In this episode, it appears that despite his release from prison,  Hank may not be as “innocent” as it is now believed.

There are secrets aplenty in this show and many questions that will need answering before the truth is revealed.  Who is the man with the holes in his face? What was Hank cleaning up and why? More importantly, why does Adam have to keep reminding himself who he is.

ALISON PILL, JOAN ALLEN
Willa and Claire Warren

One more in this tragic familial mystery is Willa.  Why has she taken over the job of protecting the family when it has so obviously adversely affected her? This behind the scenes manipulation that started 10 years previously is still going on and still, apparently laying heavy on the young woman.

Why?

In light of this “favor” she starts to ask of her father, one wonders just when the idea to ask for something in return first cropped up.

This look at a family in free-fall after their murdered son returns from the dead and their 10 year old truth is revealed to be a lie is almost compulsive viewing after watching the pilot. The second episode continues pecking away at characters in the series. Joan Hall, as Claire,  is becoming ever more strident and Andrew McCarthy’s Hank is turning out to be a very secretive and odd man.

Margot Bingham’s character is verging upon becoming obsessed with finding the man with holes in his face.

The Family is one for all those who like psychological mysteries.  The series premieres March 6 on ABC. Do not miss this one, it promises to keep the viewer guessing and eagerly awaiting the next episode as soon as the current one ends.

The Catch: Mireille Enos Plays Cat & Mouse in March – Preview

In The Catch, due to air 24 March on ABC Mireille Enos plays cat and mouse with her former business partner and fiancee in a plot and presentation that feels all too familiar.

PETER KRA-- USE, MIREILLE ENOS

In The Catch, due to air  24 March on ABC Mireille Enos plays cat and mouse with her former business partner and fiancee in a  plot and presentation that feels all too familiar. Created by Jennifer Shuur who is also executive producer (Hannibal, Hostages), the pilot is helmed by Brit director Julie Anne Robinson and the opening shot from the new series feels like a McG production. 

A mixture of the Shadowhunters pilot and (going way back here) the 2003 film  Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle are in evidence here. Although the recent series of Cassandra Clare’s YA adaptation is more obvious.

To give Robinson her due, Hollywood does have a tendency to blatantly copy what looks good, regardless of whether it works or not.  For example:  In the Guy Ritchie 2008 film RocknRolla; there  are a couple of shots where Ritchie opted to use “mini” mini cams to capture somewhat distorted close-ups of actor’s faces. Once during a chase sequence and the other scene dealt with firing an automatic weapon.  This technique has been used repeatedly since that film in both television and film.

So it comes as no surprise that this new crime, drama, thriller has an opening episode that offers a style that looks so much like other shows on offer, and not just on ABC either. The pilot of The Catch offers split screens, dissolves (into more split screens) as well as rapid camera tracking that shifts from one individual to another and all these camera techniques are backed with snappy/catchy tunes meant to convey excitement and a sort of cultural relativity.

The storyline has a successful private investigative company, which is heavy on the strong female front,  where Alice Vaughn (Enos) is engaged to be married to the suave and terribly well off Christopher, aka, Kieran Booth (Peter Krause).  Enos is a proactive and quite physically adept operative who is not afraid to tackle the baddies.

The pilot starts with an attempted art theft and then shifts into industrial espionage. As the team begin to narrow down their search for the instigator of the industrial miscreant, Alice’s wedding plans move forward.

As the they narrow in on the latest conspirator, they lose their target.  Christopher gets a check from Alice for $1.4 million and then disappears.  He also leaves with all the company’s files and money.

Alice’s business specializes in preventing fraud and theft and as they attempt keep their clients from learning that their accounts have been hacked, she moves to find Christopher and to regain the firm’s money and confidential files.  Meanwhile, it looks like “Christopher” may really care for his former fiancee.

The cast is filled with television “regulars” who have appeared in numerous shows. Some of the actors have been on projects together in the past, Brit actress Sonja Walger worked on Parenthood, as has Krause.  Rose Rollins plays Enos’ character’s “former maid of honor” and business associate and there are a total of nine characters in the show’s credits list which could make this an ensemble piece but based on the pilot it is not likely.

The emphasis is on Enos’ Alice which is perfectly understandable. Mireille has proven her acting chops are mighty both on the big screen Gangster Squad, World War Z, and small The Killing, can carry this series no problem.  From the start, it does seem to really be about her and that nefarious former fiancee Kieran (Krause.)

The Catch looks like another fast-paced and “clever” crime/thriller with attractive people who all make loads of money and dress in designer threads.  Still, the pilot is interesting, despite the too loud soundtrack that threatens to drown out the actors, another McG trait that director Robinson opted to use for the pilot.

The new series airs March 24 on ABC. Tune in and see just how gorgeous Mireille and the rest of the cast are and for the music, if for no other reason.

Verdict:

The jury is still out.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny – Review

Directed by the legendary Woo-Ping Yuen from a screenplay by The Forbidden Kingdom scribe John Fusco, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a epic return to the world of the original film directed by Ang Lee way back in 2000.

Donnie Yen as Silent Wolf

Directed by the legendary Woo-Ping Yuen from a screenplay by The Forbidden Kingdom scribe John Fusco, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a epic return to the world of the original film directed by Ang Lee way back in 2000.  Before looking at the film and its plot and players, it has to be said that there is literally beauty in each and every frame of this “Western” Asian drama.

Yuen and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel manage to make this second journey into Qing China look beyond sumptuous, as each set piece and scene almost bleeds with enough colour to drown the viewer, yet, does not distract from the story or action.  The use of light and careful melding of CG into each frame allows this offering to feel magical and almost Shakespearean.

The casting of Donnie Yen,  to play opposite the iconic Michelle Yeoh is almost serendipitous as it is almost pre-ordained. What with Yen recently killing it in the Ip Man trilogy.  Not that Yen is not already well known as a sensation in Hong Kong as an action star and stunt performer, but the timing is fortuitous to say the least.

Yeoh reprises her role as Yu Shu Lien, who survived the first film along with Sir Te, who is played by a different actor this time around. New arrivals, in terms of actors portraying Chinese martial arts heroes are truly global. Yen plays Silent Wolf, a man thought to have been killed by Lee’s character.

The plot entails protecting the “sword of destiny” as whoever wields the blade is un-defeatable.  Dai wants the sword and Lien, along with her former love Silent Wolf, fight to keep it out of Hades’ hands.

Harry Shum Jr. (who plays a rather larger than life magician in The Shadowhunters on Freeform) plays TieFang a chap playing on the wrong team at the start of the film. Said team is run by Hades Dai (played by Jason Scott Lee) who makes a pretty impressive villain despite not having too much screen time till the very end of the film. Australian actress Natasha Liu Bordizzo makes her debut as Snow Vase, the female warrior who shares a complex history with TieFang.

Also from “across the big pond” is American Actress JuJu Chan, who is not only a real-life martial arts master but a performer who has been called the new Michelle Yeoh and is also compared to Bruce Lee, who plays Silver Dart Shi. 

The wirework is spot on and the fight scenes choreographed with style, grace and, in the tavern fight scene, comedic overtones. Silent Wolf goes to a tavern to place an ad for soldiers to join his army.  After a group of thug-like mercenaries try to force Yen’s character to take them on, the five heroes who do join Silent Wolf step in.

Each hero states their name and where they are best known. After each specialist finishes the last “Turtle Ma” gives his name and says that he is well-known, “in this tavern.” The fight itself is beautifully set up to be breathtaking and funny. Even the tavern’s female proprietor takes part in the battle.

On the opposite end of the action scale, the battle between TieFang, Silent Wolf and Iron Crow (Roger Yuan) on the frozen lake is balletic in scope and presentation. The presentation is a perfect blend of ice skating and martial arts as never seen before. It is,  much like the rest of  the film’s battles; beautiful and breathtaking.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Destiny has elements that feel distinctly like an American western.  There is even a touch of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (which was a homage of sorts to the westerns of John Ford) apparent in certain scenes. Whether this is down to the screenplay or Woo-Ping Yuen knowing how to appeal to western audiences is unclear.

The film was made to appeal outside the usual Hong Kong cinematic demographic. The Netflix film was released simultaneously on the streaming website and in cinemas.  There are versions in English and in Cantonese, according to the streaming site.  Rather interestingly, if one watches the “Cantonese” version it is apparent that this has been dubbed, just like the English version.

Regardless of which version one watches, the film delivers in entertainment, action, romance and the spirit of fighting and dying for honor and loyalty.

This is a real 5 star film that is epic in scope and presentation. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Destiny  presents a fantasy version of martial arts that feels real yet magical. Just the fight sequences alone make this well worth watching.