Michael Cimino. 1939 – 2016

Wow, 2016. Just stop.

Cinema legend Michael Cimino has passed on at 77 (albeit nobody seems to trust that was actually his age.) While he started his career in New York making Television commercials, he quickly moved into screenwriting (he wrote the Bruce Dern hippie-sci-fi near-classic Silent Running, as well as the second Dirty Harry picture, Magnum Force) before starting to direct features in the mid 1970s.

Michael Cimino was perhaps best known for making one of the great Vietnam War pictures, The Deer Hunter, the film which made Christopher Walken a star, and included fine performances from Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and John Cazale. He was also infamous for his studio crushing Heaven’s Gate, a film so expensive it put United Artists into receivership with its financial excesses, but nevertheless, nearly 40 years later, is now hailed by many as a true American masterpiece. It killed his career, although he made a few more modest films in the 1980s and 1990s, nothing of the massive, deliberate scale of his two great films. It is notable that the man has more unrealized films in that period that most directors, in part due to his budget bloating fastidiousness directing method.

Cinimo always felt like the odd man out of the cinema-brats of the 1970s (Polanski, Friedkin, Scorsese, De Palma, Spielberg & Lucas), maybe because his films were considered slow and pondering, even by the standards of the era. The man nevertheless had a great eye for imagery and knew how to craft a setpiece.

The Guardian has more.

Robin Hardy. 1929 – 2016

Robin Hardy, director of one of the all time great horror films, The Wickerman has passed on at the age of 86. Born in Surrey, England, Hardy started his career with the National Film Board of Canada, before going on to direct many TV commercials in the UK, before he came on board to direct the 1973 film which starred Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee. Lee, before his recent passing, described The Wickerman as the best film he was ever in – from a man with nearly 300 film and TV credits including Lord of the Rings, 007, and Star Wars entries.

The influence of The Wickerman cannot be understated, from the recent Radiohead homage to Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (which has a cameo from Woodward) to various musicians quoting dialogue and musical elements in their work. It played a significant role in bringing paganism back to Britain in a big way, and this from one of the most tortured releases in the UK and the United States.

In the UK it played as the B-side to one of the greatest horror double features ever (Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now was the “A” film on the bill), and in the US, it was a severely truncated drive-in movie, that still somehow managed to spawn a cult of viewers while it crawled its way to horror-classic. The oft quoted phrase, “The Citizen Kane of Horror films,” comes from one Bay Area magazine, Cinefantastique, which was the first to recognize and trumpet its greatness. Even to this day, there are several of edits of the film that still remain confusing as to what is the definitive one. The writing, acting and direction are all working in sync despite being such a troubled production and release.

After 1973, Robin Hardy worked publishing novels, consulting on American historical theme parks, and directing only two films in the 1980s before circling back to have another look at his legacy. A few years ago, myself and a colleague, Micheal Guillen, had the rare privilege of sitting down for a lengthy breakfast-long interview with the erudite and prickly director, just as he was releasing his satirical sequel, The Wicker Tree at the Fantasia Film festival. You can find that interview here.

Anton Yelchin: 1989 – 2016

On a recent Cinecast, I believe it was during our review of Green Room, Kurt and I briefly went through Anton Yelchin’s filmography and noted that any film is just that much better whenever he shows up. So it’s with a heavy heart we have to report that the actor has met an untimely demise at the all too young age of 27.

Apparently Yelchin was found early in the morning pinned between his car and a mailbox. It appears that his own car, which was in neutral, somehow hit him and pinned him into a brick mailbox.

‘This is unreal,’ the actor’s friend Anna Kendrick tweeted on Sunday. ‘Anton Yelchin is such a talent. Such a huge loss.’

His Star Trek co-star John Cho added: ‘I loved Anton Yelchin so much. He was a true artist – curious, beautiful, courageous. He was a great pal and a great son. I’m in ruins.’

Chad Michael Murray tweeted: Just heard about Anton Yelchin. What a great talent and good young man. Gone far too soon…Terrible loss. You will be missed.’

Yelchin fled with his family to the United States as political refugees from St. Petersburg Russia when he was just 15. Which puts him at just 18 years-old before starring in a film in which he is the titular character alongside Robert Downey Jr in Charlie Bartlett. From the moment you saw Charlie Bartlett and saw him holding his own alongside the big guns, you could tell this was going to be a big star.

Yelchin chose wisely with his roles and tended to go with more intimate and interesting roles, rather than the big flashy ones. And he always succeeded – even if the movie did not. All of this of course until taking a huge role in 2009’s Star Trek as Pavel Chekov, navigator of the USS Enterprise which led to playing Kyle Reese in a sequel to the Terminator franchise one year later.

It’s too bad when something like this happens as all told he was a great guy and I’m positive he had dozens of fantastic performances ahead of him. You will be missed sir. God speed.

Prince. 1958-2016

Iconic musician, actor, producer, director, and man of many names, Prince Rogers Nelson has passed on from influenza (possibly, this details are still forthcoming) at 57. Throw on your DVD of Purple Rain, and watch him sploog idiosyncratic greatness onto the big screen.

I am sure many tributes will come out in the next few days for the super star in purple from Minnesota, from folks more in the know than I, but for now, The Guardian has more.

Garry Shandling. 1949-2016

Passing far too young (he was recently on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee talking about death of all things), stand-up, writer, actor, and all around funny man Garry Shandling has died suddenly at age 66. Causes of death have not been released as this time.

Starting out as a stand-up comedian and staff sitcom writer for such Sanford & Son and Welcome Back Kotter, Shandling blew up the sitcom format in the late 1980s with his capital “M” meta smackdown of the format, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, in which he would regularly walk outside the TV-set boundaries, talk to the crew and acknowledge the live studio audience (and the audience at home). For me, along with the Looney Tunes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Garry Shandling, I remember vividly my childhood crash course in the comedic power of breaking the fourth wall.

Garry Shandling went on to revolutionize how HBO did original programming with is behind the scenes talk show Larry Sanders, where, along with Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor, he went on to significant critical and cultural success. In between all that, Shandling was a regular character actor who popped up in high and low brow comedies from the 1990s all the way up to the MCU’s Captain America sequel.

The Guardian has more. But, The Vulture is mandatory reading.

George Kennedy. 1925-2016

Prolific character actor, George Kennedy, who has over 150 film and TV credits, has passed on. Doing yeoman’s work in TV westerns, sitcoms, cop shows, at the beginning of the medium before catching a big break as one of the (several) villains in Stanley Donen’s Charade, Kennedy followed that with guest spots on bigger TV westerns such as Gunsmoke, The Virginian and Bonanza. Significant parts in high profile films like The Dirty Dozen and Cool Hand Luke (where he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar) cemented his prolific career playing toughs, bosses, side-kicks and walk-ons. Kennedy also starred in the Airport disaster movies, which Zucker, Abrams, Zucker parodied with Airplane! and despite not being in either of those spoofs, ZAZ did cast him as Frank Drebin’s boss in the Naked Gun! series, where he was was a perfect fit, with such a familiar face from so much TV work.

The Wrap has more.

Douglas Slocombe. 1913-2016

Cinematographer extraordinaire, Douglas Slocombe, that is known to one generation as the lensman of many of the great Ealing Studio comedies (Kind Hearts & Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob), to another as doing yeoman’s work on midlevel studio fair such as The Fearless Vampire Killers, The Italian Job, Rollerball and The Great Gatsby, and to yet another generation as he who shot Spielberg’s Indiana Jones Trilogy, complete with gorgeous deserts, lush jungles, and fiery pits of hell; and a bit infamous for not using a light-meter,The man was 103, but (fittingly) retired his career with the legendary sunset shot at the end of The Last Crusade in 1989.

We salute you sir, for making our childhood such a pretty place. (And upon reflection, his work with mirrors in Joseph Losey’s The Servant, is unparalleled.)

The Guardian has more.

Andrzej Żuławski. 1940-2016

Cancer continues to reap a harvest of cinema auteurs. We learn today that Polish auteur Andrzej Żuławski has passed on. The director is best known for his controversial and violent art-house allegories such as and The Devil, Szamanka, and Possession (we covered the latter at The Movie Club Podcast a couple of years ago.) His long fight with the big C ended recently, just as his final film, Cosmos was picked up by Kino Lorber for distribution.

For more, here is House of Psychotic Women author, Kier-la Janisse.

Alan Rickman. 1946-2016

Cancer has been busy in the pop cultural world in the first couple weeks of 2016. Stage and Movie star (and all around silky-voiced villain) Alan Rickman has succumbed to a battle with cancer at aged 69.

Depending on your age (and geographical location) you might know the man as Hans Gruber from action-classic Die Hard, where he portrayed one of the most memorable, Plutarch quoting, baddies of the screen (“And Alexander wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”)

If you are of the younger set, then perhaps you remember him as the shifty Hogwarts teacher, Snape, from the Harry Potter films.

But this only scratches the surface from a quirky and varied acting career that spanned arthouse ghost stories, like Anthony Minghella’s Truly, Madly, Deeply, often cited as “Ghost” for grown-ups, where Rickman picked up a BAFTA. Also in idiosyncratic comedies such as The January Man (with Kevin Kline), savage political satire Bob Roberts, and Kevin Smith’s Catholicism-with-poop-jokes road trip, Dogma. He also completely stole the show from Kevin Costner playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in the big Hollywood blockbuster version of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves in the early 1990s. So much so that there was a long-standing rumour that the film had to be re-cut to minimize Rickman’s screen-time for fears of him undermining the straight-laced and boring star of the film with his exceptional scenery chewing. (See also, Aussie western Quigley Down Under.)

Lastly his exceptional voice was often used in to full effect when the actor wasn’t on screen, such as Marvin in the (underrated) film adaptation of The Hitchhicker’s Guide To the Galaxy, Absolem the Caterpillar in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland films (the later of which, Alice Through The Looking Glass will be his cinema performance.)

And this is to say nothing of his extensive stage work.

For those of us who like going to the movies, Rickman will always be treasured as one who can intimidate quietly, with the power of his voice, and a pointed look of derision. There are few, if any greater examples of instantly recognizable screen presence and haughty attitude (with a soft underbelly) working today. Actors like David Thewlis and Benedict Cumberbatch who followed in his wake will have to carry the torch from here on out.

David Bowie. 1947-2016

Musical legend, style god, actor and space oddity, David Bowie has passed on following a battle with Cancer. Whether you grew up with him in the 1970s as Ziggy Stardust and The Man Who Fell to Earth, the 1980s with Live Aid, Labyrinth and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, the 1990s with his Nine Inch Nails / Trent Reznor collaborations and various soundtrack work (From The Lost Highway to Seven) or the aughts with his astounding portrayal Nicola Tesla in The Prestige, and his comic destruction of Ricky Gervias in Extras, the Thin White Duke knew how to keep himself fresh, vibrant and relevant in both the pop cultural and musical worlds. And he did it with a rare integrity and dignity that is often missing, particularly in the world of pop music. He just recently released his 25th studio album, Blackstar, a couple days ago. David Bowie’s passing comes just a few days after his 69th Birthday.

The Guardian has more.