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Posts tagged “Scorsese

R.I.P Dick Miller

dick miller - after darkDick Miller, prolific screen actor and B-Movie legend, best known for his role as Murray Futterman in the 1984 classic horror film Gremlins, has died. He was 90.

With a career spanning more than 60 years, Miller has made hundreds of on screen appearances, beginning in the 1950’s with legendary director and producer Roger Corman. It was then that he starred as Walter Paisley – a character the actor would reprise throughout his career – in the cult classic “A Bucket of Blood,” before going on to land roles on projects such as The ‘Burbs, Fame and The Terminator.

Miller also boasts a long history of high-profile director partnerships, working with the likes of James Cameron, Ernest Dickerson, Martin Scorsese, John Sayles and, perhaps most notably, Joe Dante, who used Miller in almost every project he helmed.

In one of Dante’s earlier films, Piranha, Miller played Buck Gardner, a small-time real estate agent opening up a new resort on Lost River Lake. The only catch? A large school of genetically altered piranha have accidentally been released into the resort’s nearby rivers. Next up was a police chief role in the 1979 film Rock ‘n’ Roll High School before reprising the Walter Paisley mantle as an occult bookshop owner in Dante’s 1981 horror film The Howling.

Other notable appearances include the 1986 cult favorite Night of the Creeps, where he shared the screen with Tom Atkins as a police ammunition’s officer named Walt – he supplies Atkins with some necessary firepower in the face of an alien worm-zombie invasion – and a pawnshop owner in James Cameron’s 1984 hit The Terminator; the same year he appeared in yet another of Dante’s films, Gremlins.

Most recently, Miller reprised the role of Walter Paisley for a final time as a rabbi in Eben McGarr’s horror film Hanukkah.

Miller is survived by his wife Lainie, daughter Barbara and granddaughter Autumn.

joedanteDante called him “one of his most treasured collaborators,” writing, “I ‘grew up’ (kinda) watching Dick Miller in movies from the 50’s on and was thrilled to have him in my first movie for Roger Corman.”

Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro, Jr. (born August 17, 1943) is an American actor, director and producer. Nicknamed “Bobby Milk” for his pallor, the youthful De Niro hung out with a group of street kids in Little Italy, some of whom have remained lifelong friends of his. But the direction of his future had already been determined by his stage debut at age ten, playing the Cowardly Lion in his school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. Along with finding relief from shyness through performing, De Niro was also entranced by the movies, and he dropped out of high school at age 16 to pursue acting. De Niro studied acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory and Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio.

De Niro’s first film role in collaboration with Brian De Palma was in 1963 at the age of 20, when he appeared opposite his friend Jill Clayburgh in ‘The Wedding Party’; however, the film was not released until 1969. He then played Lloyd Barker as a spaced-out drug addict in Roger Corman’s ‘Bloody Mama’ (1970). It starred Shelly Winters as Machine gun totin’ Ma Barker who led her family gang (her sons) on a crime spree in the Depression era.

He than gained popular attention, and won the New York Film Society’s Award for Best Supporting Actor with his role as a dying Baseball player in ‘Bang the Drum Slowly’ (1973). That same year, he began his fruitful collaboration with Martin Scorsese when he played a memorable role as the small time crook Johnny Boy, alongside Harvey Keitel’s Charlie in ‘Mean Streets’ (1973).

That role brought him to the attention of Francis Ford Coppola, who cast him as the young Vito Corleone, the director having remembered his previous auditions for the roles of Sonny & Michael Corleone, Carlo Rizzi and Paulie Gatto in the original ‘The Godfather’. His performance earned him his first Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actor. De Niro and his hero, Marlon Brando, who played the older Vito Corleone in the first film, are the only actors to have won Oscars portraying the same fictional character. Brando and De Niro came together onscreen for the only time in ‘The Score’ (2001).

After working with Scorsese in Mean Streets, he had a very successful working relationship with the director in films such as ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976), ‘New York, New York’ (1977), ‘Raging Bull’ (1980), ‘The King of Comedy’ (1983), ‘Goodfellas’ (1990), ‘Cape Fear’ (1991), and ‘Casino’ (1995). They also acted together in ‘Guilty by Suspicion’ (1991) and provided their voices for the animated feature ‘Shark Tale’ (2004). I’ve covered Taxi Driver in a separate article.

In 1976, De Niro appeared, along with Gerard Depardieu and Donald Sutherland, in Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic biographical exploration of life in Italy before World War II, ‘Novecento’ or ‘1900’, seen through the eyes of two Italian childhood friends at the opposite sides of society’s hierarchy. In a busy year for De Niro he also starred in ‘The Last Tycoon’, directed by Elia Kazan for from Harold Pinter’s screenplay of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

In 1978, De Niro played Michael Vronsky in the acclaimed Vietnam War film ‘The Deer Hunter’, for which he was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, losing to Jon Voight for that years other Vietnam movie, Coming Home. Producer Deeley pursued De Niro for The Deer Hunter because he felt that he needed De Niro’s star power to sell a film with a “gruesome-sounding storyline and a barely known director”. “I liked the script, and [Cimino] had done a lot of prep,” said De Niro. “I was impressed.” Well known for his love of method acting De Niro prepared by socializing with steelworkers in local bars and by visiting their homes, he would take his love of the method to extremes with Raging Bull:

‘True Confessions’ (1981) and ‘The King of Comedy’ (1983) were slightly different characters for De Niro, however he returned to the mob movie with Sergio Leone’s epic, ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ (1984) with James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, William Forsythe, Treat Williams, Burt Young and regular on-screen partner Joe Pesci. At over 4 hours long the film explores themes of childhood friendships, love, lust, greed, betrayal, loss, broken relationships, and the rise of mobsters in American society. The film is done in non-linear order. While this plot states the film from the 20’s to the 60’s the film is largely told through flashbacks from the 60’s.

Fearing he had become typecast in  gangster roles, De Niro began expanding into more varied and occasional comedic roles in the mid-1980s and has had much success there as well, with such films as ‘Falling in Love’ (1984), ‘Brazil’ (1985), ‘The Mission’ (1986), the hit action-comedy ‘Midnight Run’ (1988), ‘Analyze This’ (1999) opposite actor/comedian Billy Crystal, ‘Meet the Parents’ (2000), ‘Meet the Fockers’ (2004) and the awful ‘Little Fockers’ last year.

De Niro returned to the mobsters movie with Brian De Palma’s ‘The Untouchables’ (1987) and Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’ (1990). Both modern classics of the gangster genre. De Niro has really ramped up his output over the last few decades, the best being ‘Awakenings’ (1991), ‘Night and the City’ (1992), ‘A Bronx Tale’ (1993) which he also directed, ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’ (1994), the excellent ‘Casino’ and ‘Heat’ (both 1995), ‘Cop Land’, ‘Jackie Brown’ and ‘Wag the Dog’ (all 1997) and ‘Ronin’ (1998).

Jake LaMotta – Raging Bull

Giacobbe LaMotta (born July 10, 1921), better known as Jake LaMotta, nicknamed “The Bronx Bull” and “The Raging Bull”, is an American former world middleweight champion boxer who was famously portrayed by Robert De Niro in the film Raging Bull.

LaMotta, who compiled a record of 83 wins, 19 losses and four draws, was the first man to beat the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, considered by many to be the greatest pound-for-pound boxer ever. LaMotta knocked him down in the first round of their first fight and then outpointed him over the course of 10 rounds during the second fight of their legendary six-bout rivalry. After retirement, LaMotta owned and managed bars, and became a stage actor and stand-up comedian. He appeared in more than 15 films, including ‘The Hustler’ with Paul Newman, in which he had a cameo role as a bartender.

Robert De Niro read LaMotta’s 1970 memoir, ‘Raging Bull: My Story. DeNiro became fascinated by the character of LaMotta when he showed the book to Martin Scorsese on the set of ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ (1974) as a means to hopefully consider the project. Scorsese repeatedly turned down DeNiro offers to take the director’s chair; then after nearly dying from a drug overdose, Scorsese agreed to make the film for De Niro’s sake, not only to save his own life but also to save what remained of his career. Scorsese knew that he could relate to the story of Jake LaMotta as a way to redeem himself; he saw the role being portrayed as an everyman for whom “the ring becomes an allegory of life,” making the project a very personal one for him.

The film, ‘Raging Bull’ (1980), was initially only a minor box office success, but eventually became a huge critical success both for director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert DeNiro, who famously gained about 60 pounds (27 kg) during the shooting of the film to play the older LaMotta in later scenes. The film depicts a violent and self-destructive LaMotta, who once goes as far as beating his own brother, manager Joey LaMotta Joe Pesci), while accusing him of having an affair with his (Jake’s) then wife, Vickie LaMotta (Cathy Moriarthy). In real life, this altercation was between LaMotta and his best friend Pete, not his brother Joey. The Joey character in the film is an amalgamation to simplify the narrative.

To accurately portray the younger LaMotta, De Niro trained with LaMotta until LaMotta felt he was ready to box professionally. The actor found that boxing came naturally to him; he entered as a middleweight boxer, winning two of his three fights in a Brooklyn ring dubbed “young LaMotta” by the commentator. According to Jake LaMotta, he felt that De Niro was one of his top 20 best middleweight boxers of all time.

De Niro then moved to Paris for three months, eating at the finest restaurants in order to gain sufficient weight to portray LaMotta after retirement. He said after that prothestics “never get the neck right” as his main reason for gaining the weight. De Niro won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.

It was the first Scorsese/De Niro movie I’d ever seen on the big screen, at my college, it blew me away… topped only by seeing ‘Taxi Driver’ a few weeks later. What an exceptional intorduction to these guys work! The film is all De Niro, it’s impossible to take your eyes off him and he commands every scene he’s in. The rest of the cast are all exceptional, Joe Pesci in his first major role, Cathy Moriarty in her debut (what a wasted career she’s had since) and Frank Vincent. By the end of the 1980s, Raging Bull had cemented its reputation as a modern classic. It was voted the best film of the 1980s in numerous critics’ polls and is regularly pointed to as both Scorsese’s best film and one of the finest American movies ever made.

Taxi Driver 35th Anniversary *****

“Someday a real rain will wash all the scum off the streets”

Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) is an ex-Marine Vietnam veteran in New York. He’s an insomniac loner who passes the time by taking a permanent night shift as a Taxi Driver. He sees the worst of mankind each night on his rounds and this eats away at him, fuelling his urge to lash out and right the perceived wrongs in the city. Travis tries to make some sort of connection with Betsy (Cybil Shepherd) a worker on a presidential nomination campaign. His failed attempts at some kind of normality serve only to highlight how alienated and out of touch with reality he really is. Deciding to turn his urges into action, Travis determines to help teenage prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) escape the clutches of her pimp (Harvey Keitel)…

I first saw Taxi Driver at a College Cinema club in the early 80’s. I had no idea what it was about but had been told it was ‘unmissable’ by a few guys who had seen it. You hear that a lot about way too many movies but this time it turned out to be true. It was my real introduction to the work of Scorsese; I had seen Raging Bull a few weeks before and was blown away by DeNiro and I had mistakenly at the time thought of Raging Bull as a ‘DeNiro’ film. I was young, gimme a break… But Taxi Driver stays with you after you’ve seen it, and after you’ve seen it again because repeat viewings are mandatory.

The film came out in 1976, a year after ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and both films are exceptional studies of mental illness, albeit from different viewpoints. Whereas Cuckoo’s Nest pits a relatively sane man against the mental health system from inside an institution and is a damning indictment of that institution; Taxi Driver features an obviously irrational and mentally disturbed individual in a world he is incapable of comprehending.

The quality of everyone’s work is there on the screen. Bernard Herrmann’s terrific score gets under Travis and the viewers skin. Paul Schrader’s script is exceptional and signalled the dark heart that would permeate his work henceforth: Hardcore, Raging Bull, Mishima being the standouts. DeNiro fulfilling the promise of his previous year’s best supporting actor Oscar for The Godfather Part II. He is surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast, Jodie Foster as Iris, Cybil Shepherd as Betsy and Harvey Keitel as Sport the pimp… but DeNiro carries the weight of the movie, he’s in almost every scene and his is an exceptional performance.

However the film belongs to Scorsese, returning to the New York of his breakthrough ‘Mean Streets’ of three years earlier. He brings all the individual parts together to form what is a dark, disturbing and compelling film. Essentially we are watching Travis’ psychosis and irrational thought process unravel to an explosive climax. On the page it must have looked bleak and it’s difficult to imagine how hard a sell it must have been to the studio. Scorsese sells it perfectly.

I’ve watched everything that Scorsese and DeNiro have done since that first Taxi Driver viewing; there have been the odd stumble here and there, especially for DeNiro of late but Scorsese is never less than essential viewing.

35 years after its initial release, Taxi Driver remains an all-time classic. The 35th Anniversary Blu-Ray and DVD are released this week with all the old and some new features.

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Is it good: 5 out of 5 stars