Tag Archives: Film History

Let’s Go Over the Bonus Situation: Remembering Yaphet Kotto

An actor whose magnetic presence matched or exceeded his six foot, four frame, Yaphet Kotto has died at the age of 81.

Parker in the classic sci-fi film Alien is one of his best known roles

Remembrances can be found across the internet, including:

While it’s almost certain I first saw Kotto in Alien, the performance that will always stick with me was seeing him on stage as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s Fences.

A publicity still from the 1990 London production of Fences (couldn’t find the DC one)

Through all the power, fragility, strength, and weakness in that character was a presence that just couldn’t be faked. As an actor and as a casting director, I obsess about actors “inhabiting” their characters to the right degree — and Kotto always did so. Amazingly so.

And I should point out he could inhabit all sorts of characters in a variety of genres. For Midnight Run, his turn as FBI agent Alonzo Mosely is a perfectly realized straight man in an action-comedy whose plot was anything but straightforward. His gravitas weathers all the shenanigans and manages to ground the film in the stakes, especially at the end.

His moment at the end is pure acting gold.
This man has seen things you recent Starfleet grads wouldn’t believe…

Although he turned down an opportunity to be Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, evidently in part to avoid being typed in “space” films, he did come awfully close to being in another venerable sci-fi franchise.

Yes, apparently he was close to being Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. That would have been a very different Picard, but man would I like to see the stories from that timeline.

Time and again, the appearance of Yaphet Kotto has meant you’re getting a damn fine performance. I’m overdue to revisit his turn as Lt. Al Giardello in Homicide: Life on the Street, a series I should check out again anyway.

You want to talk about the bonus situation? The bonus situation was whenever Yaphet Kotto showed up. May his memory be a blessing.

And give the man his badge back (still from Midnight Run)

“Every [film] has to come to an end, sometime.”

I think L. Frank Baum (the source of the amended quotation above) would understand. Like books, songs, and many other an enjoyable thing: all things come to an end.

Thanks to one of my siblings, I have a glorious poster of assorted iconic film endings hanging in my house.

The sharp-eyed among you will note the cunningly-placed “author watermark.”

Who doesn’t love a really solid ending to a film? Whether it’s funny, poignant, thought-provoking, or applause-inducing, a satisfying ending is what so often makes a good movie great.

So I had to give Vulture’s recent roundup of “The 101 Greatest Endings in Movies History.”

Do I agree with them all? No more than many of you probably agree with my 50 Favorite Films. But just as I take that exercise seriously (well, as seriously as one should), the team over at Vulture has clearly put a lot of thought into the piece — and their love of film from all over the globe and from all decades is on display.

It should go without saying that this list is chock full of spoilers. At least 101 of them and possibly more depending on your familiarity of the films on this list. And here’s the thing: there will be films on this list that you have not seen. I have seen literally over 10,000 films in my lifetime and there are films on this list that I have never checked out. Odds are you’re in the same boat.

If that’s the case, heed the words of Roy Scheider: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Go forth and enjoy some films with great endings.

Bringing the Real and the Imagined Alive: Remembering Michael Apted

Apted at the Peabody Awards in 2013 (Photo: Anders Krusberg)

When you talk with your filmmaking peers, it comes as no surprise they have always have a few filmmakers they follow closely, perhaps someone who isn’t necessarily a household name… or even necessarily an art house movie theater name.

Michael Apted was one of those filmmakers for me. He died at the age of 79, earlier in January (I’m just getting to writing this post now). You can read obituaries and remembrances from the BBC, the Guardian, Variety, and NPR among others.

One part of his career you see mentioned again and again is the Up series, documentaries made at seven-year intervals looking at a particular set of Britons starting in 1964. It has become –as I recall one reviewer putting it– “a time-lapse film of human lives.” It’s simple, straightforward, and extraordinary.

Apted continued to make fiction and non-fiction films for the rest of his career… and the fiction films included a James Bond spy film and an installment of the Chronicles of Narnia. His filmography is rightly described as “eclectic.” And with a background in both anthropology and theater, with a love of films and history, you can perhaps begin to see why he was one of the filmmakers I followed.

For those of you who have seen my biennial Favorite Films sort, none of his fiction films ever make it into my top 50 and –by virtue of me wanting each feature to stand on its own– that eliminates the Up series from competition (its heft comes from the whole package after all). But I would be hard pressed not to find something interesting an energizing about every single one of his movies. In part, I think it’s because he always finds ways to bring forward truth in the fiction.

Nowhere is this more on display for me than the natural double-feature of Incident at Oglala and Thunderheart. The former is a thought-provoking documentary about shootings and subsequent trials at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. The latter is Hollywood mystery thriller with Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, and Graham Greene, among others, oh so clearly inspired by the real events, but distinctly different.

There are always bits worthy of note in all of his films. For instance, in 2001’s Enigma, you get a good breakdown of how codebreaking actually works versus the typical “hack the Internets” silliness sometimes on display in films.

Still from 2001’s Enigma (cinematographer: Seamus McGarvey)

So while my biggest disappointment is how the Up series will continue or end (something several people are now wondering), there are plenty of other films, big and small, I was hoping might pop up there.

Time to revisit some films…

Video

On-Screen Death: Championship Round

As some friends and fellow filmmakers know, I have offered to be the DC-area Sean Bean –the National Capital Area “kirareyaku,” so to speak– is he really the man (or woman) we’ve see die the most on screen?

Find out the answer in this video where film spoilers abound:

2020 Additions to the National Film Registry

Apropos of the Laurel and Hardy post earlier this week, and the fact that Christmas with the extended Munsons always involves receiving and watching films on Christmas Day, the recent inductees into the National Film Registry include the 1927 classic “Battle of the Century.”

Back when Mutually Assured Destruction was less lethal and more delectable.

Dave McNary over at Variety details the other inductees.

Another Fine Mess with Laurel and Hardy

The end of this week will feature the latest edition of my biennial Favorite Films list, so I suppose I have films on my mind.

Some of the earliest films I saw were short films, thanks to my dad and the Arlington County library which had them. And I do mean films! We had a projector at home, which was often used for birthday parties and other events. This inevitably meant those masters of movie comedy, Laurel and Hardy.

Now, I’m by no means a Laurel and Hardy scholar, for that sort of discussion, you’ll want to check out this excellent interview with film historian Leonard Maltin and general pop culture history maven Mark Evanier, but I am looking for ways to introduce my kids to these classic (Looney Tunes have gone over pretty well, but they’re not the biggest fans of live action… yet).

And as another argument to make sure Laurel and Hardy are in their cinematic upbringing, there’s this remembrance from Mark “Jedi” Hamill:

Let’s Talk about Capes

I’ve been kind of preoccupied with some minor things over the past couple weeks.

So let’s talk about matters of true importance: capes in Science Fiction. (Sorry, Edna Mode).

We’ve got the blueshift cape, now I want to see the redshift cape! #NerdHumor

Video

Happy Centennial, Ray Harryhausen

Somewhere in the Heavens, and in glorious Dynamation, Ray Harryhausen is celebrating his 100th birthday.

There’s nothing I can say that can surpass what many, many, many people in the film industry can say about Ray Harryhausen, so I’ll simply link to two videos. The first, a tribute made on his death:

The second, a review of all his creatures, set to music you know you want to do stop action animation dancing to:

The Chess Game has Ended: R.I.P. Max von Sydow

A towering presence in cinema –literal and figurative– had died. Max von Sydow, an actor we’ve seen on screens since the 1950s, has died at the age of 90.

You can read (and listen) to accounts in the BBC, Variety, and NPR among many others.

What struck many of us moviegoers was the wide range of parts he would play… and could play with such quiet conviction. Here is a man who played the Son of God as well as the Eternal Adversary. But whether as tormentor or tormented, he would bring a bit of gravitas to whatever work he was in, even if the work was more than a little cartoony (I’m looking at you, Ming).

You never ask why Max von Sydow is in a film, but you may ask, “How much?”

His unequivocally prolific body of work means that audiences will find him in dozens of films for decades to come — and personally, that has always been a delight. Especially for some of his later work, where he moved from leading man to supporting character, his presence wasn’t always announced, so I adored his appearance in Intacto and wished for a few more scenes of him in Star Wars, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

It’s hard to wrap your head around him being gone.

As some have noted, he’s been a presence in our cinema lives for so long, it’s hard to imagine him not popping up again in this TV show or that movie, whether to be chilling or entertaining, but always affecting.

It’s been one amazing chess game, sir. Well played.

Video

TCM Remembers, 2019

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) does a wonderful remembrance of the film artists we lost in the past year. I’ve mentioned it before, but it always makes me wistful and reminds me to rewatch a movie or three.

I thought this year’s was especially good, perhaps because of the many quotes from the people they used.

Check it out when you’re ready to be verklempt.