Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cut to Black

It was reported today that actor James Gandolfini has just died. As I did a little tribute to Jean Stapleton, I thought it worth mentioning Gandolfini as well. Admittedly, my first thought was, "Was it a heart attack?" and that seems to be the case. For a big guy to die suddenly, it seemed the likeliest cause.

Gandolfini is best known to audiences as Tony Soprano, though he was also a very versatile actor who could do comedy as well as intense drama. He managed to avoid extreme type-casting, playing nice guys as well as tough guys; heroes with a hard edge and sympathetic villains. And he made that one Christmas movie with Ben Affleck, but that's all we'll say about that one.

I was never a regular viewer of The Sopranos, though I admire his work. So instead, I thought I would take this opportunity to promote one of my favorite James Gandolfini roles: the under-appreciated film The Last Castle. This movie came out when I was in college, and I actually saw it in the theater. I can't remember if it was based on a trailer or if I just went in totally blind. Either way, I had little to go on and quite enjoyed it. It's a movie that doesn't get talked about and maybe once in a while shows up on basic cable. I'm not saying it's some masterwork of cinema, but I thought it was pretty good.

The movie stars Robert Redford as a man who is sent to a military prison run by James Gandolfini's character. Redford plans an escape, and it's a battle of wills between him and Gandolfini. I really wish the movie had done better or were remembered more. There's this great dramatic moment involving flying a flag upside-down. And while Redford is obviously the protagonist here, it's Gandolfini that really made the movie for me. If you've never seen it, I think it's definitely worth checking out. It's not quite The Shawshank Redemption, and it won't shatter the foundations of cinema or anything, but it'll make for a nice movie night.

As the summer heat rolls around, I encourage you to seek out other James Gandolfini performances and see how much more than Tony Soprano he was. Ultimately, it's the work that will live on, and I think we honor the legacy of great actors when we watch and enjoy them.

Cue "Don't Stop Believin"...
Cut to black.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Jean Stapleton

Actress Jean Stapleton died this weekend. My first experience with her was in the Disney Channel original movie Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme, in which she played Mother Goose. It was this bizarre star-studded project from Shelley Duvall. I wonder if she retained the rights, since the VHS did not come out through Disney. That's one I'd love to see get a DVD release.

But while she's played other roles such as Eleanor Roosevelt, most people know her from her Emmy-winning performance as Edith Bunker on All in the Family.

She always managed to make Edith a real person and not a caricature, even while playing the broadest comedy. She brought a sensitivity to the show that helped balance some of the gruffer "I-can't-believe-he-said-that" moments, and you always felt she and Archie really loved each other. Her comic timing was excellent, and while not exactly a comedienne, I think she's sometimes overshadowed by great comic actresses like Carol Burnett. She was a real talent, and she will be missed.