Harry Dean Stanton: 1926 – 2017

Possibly the greatest character actor of the past 40 years, the cantankerous stalwart for the smoking, drinking working fellow, Harry Dean Stanton passed on at the venerable age of 91. The actor has approximately 200 film and television credits dating all the way back to the 1950s, so obviously you might fit into one or more of several camps of HDS. There is the dopey working class performances in Red Dawn, and Alien (Rieeeght). There is the creepy, creepy villain rolls in TV’s Big Love series, Seven Psychopaths, and Wild At Heart. The existential drifter, in Paris Texas, and his last major film to come out, 2017’s Lucky. The mentor and father figure, in Pretty in Pink, Repo Man. As a seedy sidekick in Escape From New York and Cockfighter. Or the witness to events in The Straight Story, The Green Mile, The Avengers, Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me, and The Last Temptation of Christ. Or mood-setting troubadour strumming his six string in Cool Hand Luke, Access All Areas and recently in Twin Peaks: The Return.

His lanky frame and ‘I don’t give a fuck’ posture, which was meticulously achieved with committed performances in even the tiniest of parts, made him one of the recognizable faces in film, and he will deeply missed. Of course, Stanton worked right up to the moment of his death and can be seen acting alongside one of his regular collaborators, David Lynch (he is in the bulk of Lynch’s filmography), in John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky as well as in Michael Oblowitz’s Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner picture, Frank & Ava.

Variety has more.

Tobe Hooper: 1943 – 2017

Tobe Hooper, probably best known for helming one of the most renowned and influential horror films of all time, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has died of natural causes at the age of 74.

Because of it’s rather realistic vision and deranged sensibilities, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a high water mark in horror cinema and one of the most profitable independent films of the 1970s. It put Hooper’s name on the map and he worked in television and film for nearly the next forty years. “Salem’s Lot” and Poltergeist to name just a couple of the more popular titles.

The director’s passing will have a lot of fans of the horror genre mourning today as Hooper was a true hero (and likewise fan as well) of the genre. Survived by two sons, he will be missed and well remembered by many.

Sam Shepard: 1943-2017

If your film was ever in need of the wise, tough as nails, good ol’ boy, you really couldn’t do much better than Sam Shepard. I know it’s a few days gone by at this point, but with the site problems we couldn’t get to it in a timely manner. Still, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge this staple of American Cinema of the past half-century. And he will be missed after succumbing to the black veil resulting from complications of ALS.

Possibly best known by the older general audiences as Gen. Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in The Right Stuff, he then was solidified as a solid star that became a household name. You could argue that he was typecast, but that isn’t always a bad thing in Hollywood. Cigar smoking military mastermind? Check. Seasoned cattle hand? Check. Sexy, small town widower? Check. Renegade from the southern law? Check. Straight up family man patriarch? Check. He played these roles, all of them, with aplomb.

Accomplishments include an Oscar nomination and The Pulitzer in 1979 for his abilities as a playwrite. He was romantically involved with Jessica Lange for a number of years and most recently was one of the stars of the much lauded, Netflix original “Bloodline”.

Shepard made his screen acting debut in Bob Dylan’s movie Renaldo and Clara. His film acting credits also include Steel Magnolias, playing the husband of the beauty shop owner; Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven, for which his movie career took off; Resurrection; Frances; Country; Fool for Love; Crimes of the Heart; Baby Boom; Bright Angel; Defenseless; Hamlet; The Notebook; Black Hawk Down; Don’t Come Knocking; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Brothers; Safe House; Mud; August: Osage County; Cold in July; Midnight Special; Ithaca; In Dubious Battle; and You Were Never Here.

He wrote the screenplays for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point; Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, which won the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival; and Wenders’ Don’t Come Knocking. He also directed for film, including 1988’s Far North and 1992’s Silent Tongue.

Shepard also played drums in a band he formed called “The Holy Modal Rounders,” who were featured in Easy Rider, and he accompanied Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour.

 
 

Martin Landau: 1928 – 2017

Not a good day for losing icons. Legendary actor Martin Landau passed away at age 89. Landau made his film debut as a henchmen in Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, and was a regular presence on both the big screen and the small screen thereafter massing a huge body of work from wide-screen epics Cleopatra and the Greatest Story Ever Told, to Mission:Impossible, Columbo and Space 1999 on the boobtube.

He h
He was especially beloved for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s masterpiece, Ed Wood, and went on to work with Burton a few more times (doing voice work in Frankenweenie) and uncredited in Sleepy Hollow. His wicked smile, could shift on a dime to a long intimidating face, which allowed the actor equal comfort as the villain or the hero, and later on (see his Judge character in poker drama, Rounders) a father figure. In real life, he also offered his services as an acting coach and played some part in training Jack Nicholson, Harry Dean Stanton (who is a couple years older than Landau) and Angelica Huston among others.

As a young man, he hung out with James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and as an older gentlemen, he remained working right up until his recent passing. His career had ups and downs, but he never faded away, and was one of those A-list character actors that are rare these days.

VanityFair has more.

George A. Romero: 1940 – 2017

It is with a heavy heart that we heard today that George A. Romero, god-father of the modern zombie, has passed due to Cancer in Toronto today. Romero of course gave us the Dead series of films starting in 1968 where he envisioned zombies not in the traditional Haitian, plantation sense, but as the end of the world, and as a (possibly accidental) metaphor for racism and the 1960s. It was also a rip-roaring good horror flick that has stood the test of time for nearly 50 years for being ahead of its time (in part due to the lead character Ben (played by Duane Jones) being black, but also in terms of narrative and filmmaking style).

The director started making industrial/commercial films for various companies after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, but after Night of the Living Dead he was a pretty major indie filmmaker and followed Night with a sequel, the more ambitious, both in gore and metaphor, Dawn of the Dead, which is considered by many to be one of the greatest films the genre has ever made. And while 1985’s Day of the Dead is kind of ignored by the mainstream lovers of the genre or considered ‘lesser’ than the first two entries, I personally love it dearly.

While Romero was often type-cast as ‘that zombie director’ he also re-invented the witchcraft film with Season of the Witch, government conspiracy and chemical weapons, The Crazies, the venerable vampire film as an addiction metaphor, Martin, as well as the creature feature anthology with Creepshow. There are so many nutty little corners of his career, from directing an episode to Mr. Rogers Neighbourhood, to (effective!) primate freak-out horror Monkey Shines, and gonzo medieval motorcycle cult favourite, Knight Riders.

Romero struggled in the 1990s and 2000s as he churned out a few more Dead films (including a modest sized studio entry, Land of the Dead) to diminishing returns. He moved to Toronto and acted as part-time mentor to several members of the local filmmaking community, and was popular at conventions and in repertory screening Q&As. I recall seeing him enthusiastically offer his unvarnished opinions on the large resurgence of the Zombie Genre he helped popularize in the early 2000s, a renaissance that has continued to this day. It is notable, that like John Carpenter, many of his classic films have been officially and unofficially remade, and homaged in every conceivable way.

Mr. Romero will be missed, but his contributions to the wilder side of cinema will likely never be forgotten.

The L.A. Times has more.

Adam West: 1928 – 2017

After a brief bout with Leukemia, the real Batman, Adam West has left this world to fight crime on another plane. “Our dad always saw himself as The Bright Knight and aspired to make a positive impact on his fans’ lives. He was and always will be our hero,” his family said in a statement. Always good-natured and playful at heart, West had a way with his characters and his fans.

Probably most notable as the titular star of the 60s television series Batman, a humorous take on the caped, crime fighter genre; which of course spawned a film version of the same name later that year – which I might argue is still the best feature-length Batman movie to date. Apparently struggling for steady work after that show was cancelled, he did find some amount of recognition and fame as the eccentric and dim-witted (but lovable) mayor, Adam West, in Seth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy.” He also is in a handful of various television episodes and recognizable voice work here and there.

Adam West was 88 years young and he will be missed. The Hollywood Reporter has more…

Glenne Headly: 1955 – 2017

Although never a super-star, actress Glenne Headly had a wonderful one-two punch in the 1980s, with the gloriously funny remake Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and offbeat technicolor comic-strip blockbuster Dick Tracy. Headly also had a steady television career with regular roles on ER and MONK. The actress was always doing one or two films on top of one or two TV shows, being a serial guest star on shows as diverse as the X-Files, Parks & Recreation and one of the several CSI spin-offs. She started out her career in Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where she met her first husband, John Malkovich. The marriage ended in divorce after only a few years, after Malkovich started cheating on her with Michelle Pfeiffer on the set of Dangerous Liaisons. Like Nicole Kidman, about the same time she stepped away from a high-profile husband, opportunity for edgier material in more sizable roles, seemed to present itself. Like most great character actors, she was an onscreen chameleon, going from funny to sexy to vulnerable to hyper-intelligent to invisible across projects, and her works speaks for itself in its own quiet way, because she was never a Hollywood celebrity.

Roger Moore: 1927 – 2017

It has not been a good week for fans of the James Bond Franchise. Earlier, the first singer to pass, of all those who had contributed a credits song was Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell at 52. Now the Big C has claimed the life of Roger Moore, the third actor to play James Bond, and the first one to shuck off this mortal coil at the age of 89. While Moore was often associated with the ‘silly phase’ of the franchise (culminating with the space romp, Moon Raker), in fact things has taken an over-the-top tone as early as the fourth film, Thunderball (1965) a few years earlier when Sean Connery still had the role. Moore had a lighter, more above-it-all, attitude that he carried throughout the 1970s and well into the 1980s. His model of 007 was clearly the template for the Pierce Brosnan era that followed in the 1990s.

Moore started his career on television, where he was involved with several series in the 1950s and 1960s, the chief among them modern day Robin Hood vigilante series, The Saint, which ran for most of the latter decade. This was often cited as the reason he got the James Bond role after Australian George Lazenby turned down long term commitments to the role after making only a single film. Moore went on to make seven 007 films over twelve years, starred in a few other (forgettable) action films in both the UK and the US concurrent to his lengthy stint as the worlds most famous super spy. He went into retirement after 1985’s A View To A Kill, popping out for charity work (Unicef, PETA) or the occasional sly casting in parodies of spy films.

The Guardian has more.

Powers Boothe: 1948 – 2017

It was not a good week for fine, grizzled, aged character actors. Powers Boothe passed on Sunday, and the world of genre films is sorely diminished. Boothe was a favourite of directors who liked their films packed with testosterone. Walter Hill used him as a loose canon in the underrated soldier thriller, Southern Comfort and again alongside Nick Nolte in Extreme Prejudice. William Friedkin gave him a tiny scene in the 1981 leather-bar murder mystery, Cruising, which he makes the most of. John Milius cast him as the soldier role model for the high school kids in Red Dawn, John Boorman used him in The Emerald Forrest and Oliver Stone cast him in the icky back-water horror, U-Turn. Boothe was apart of the all star cast in the Disney (well, Touchstone due to all the violence) telling of the shoot out at the OK Coral, 1993’s Tombstone. Robert Rodriguez used him as a vile senator in both the Sin City films. And finally, the coup de grace of his career was in that bastion of character actor bliss, HBO’s Deadwood where he was the rival saloon owner who was the boss of the marvelous Ricky Jay as a dealer of cards.

If you wanted high energy, straight-backed menace with a dollop of showmanship, well, Boothe was your man. He will be sorely missed.

Slate has more.

Michael Parks: 1940 – 2017

Musician, actor, and all around badass Michael Parks has passed on at 77. Familiar to TV audience from his myriad of guest-appearances over four decades on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Gunsmoke, The Equalizer and Twin Peaks (playing a French Canadian scoundrel), Parks just brought that heady brew of intimidating and crazy, with a twinkle in his eye. His peculiar cadence and mannerisms of speaking make him in the league of Christopher Walken, Al Pacino and Robert Deniro, as being instantly recognizable in any part, but still able to fold into a character. And he could do this with only minutes of screen time, whereas A-listers had a whole film to do so. Parks was exceptionally efficient and talented as a character actor and a thief of scenes.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez cast him as the ubiquitous Sheriff McGraw across 4 films (Kill Bill, Death Proof, Planet Terror, and his stunning mood setting intro for From Dusk Till Dawn.) Lately Kevin Smith has been using him to play megalomaniacs and put him in a very central role both Red State and Tusk, but really, Parks ace in the hole was stealing single scenes, like his Mexican Pimp in the back half of Kill Bill, or his prospector in Django Unchained. He worked right up to his death (Hostiles is currently in production). He will be sorely missed.

IndieWire has more.

Jonathan Demme: 1944 – 2017

Master director Jonathan Demme has passed on today from complications due to heart disease and Cancer. He leaves behind an impressive legacy of feature films in all genres, including a robust palette of documentaries and concert films. While Demme was never the household name a la Scorsese, Spielberg or Hitchcock, he was always making films that have stood the test of time, and had major cache from cinephiles; from his early years in the Roger Corman school of exploitation trash, such as Caged Heat and Black Mama White Mama (the latter of which he wrote the screenplay for), through-out the eighties with underrated films like Something Wild and his magnificent documentaries on Spalding Grey (Swimming to Cambodia) and The Talking Heads (Stop Making Sense!) His 1998 comedy Married To The Mob, might just be the most underrated comedy of that decade.

His profile rose considerably with the Oscar sweep of horror-procedural-camp The Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Throughout the 1990s Demme films were consistently recognized come awards time: Philadelphia, which ‘elevated’ Tom Hanks from a comedy actor to a capital “S” serious drama guy, and also brought major mainstream attention to gay issues in America, and Beloved, adapted from Toni Morrison’s slavery novel, which put TV icon Oprah Winfrey in front of the film camera to great effect.

While his remake of The Manchurian Candidate was quietly forgotten, I know Andrew around these parts will always shout the praises for his low-key stylized wedding drama, Rachel Getting Married – which gave serious actor credibility to Anne Hathaway, due to her wonderful performance. Demme continued to support her now very successful career, making a point of showing up to the TIFF premiere of Hathaway starring Colossal.

I personally have not kept up with his recent work of the past 5 or 6 years, but the films always get wide play on the A-list festival circuit, including his 2016 documentary on Justin Timberlake.

I suppose that was the wonderful thing about Jonathan Demme, as a director and a storyteller (and I am guessing here, as a person), he made sure everyone involved looked good, and his own directorial flourishes were only ever in service of the story and the characters of his films. As one of Americas premiere filmmakers, and a key influence on the current wave of A-list directors (P.T. Anderson to Alexander Payne and Wes Anderson have all payed homage to his style of close-up for emotional effect) he will be sorely missed.

The Guardian has more.