Tag Archives: producer

John Hughes (1950-2009)

First Farrah, then Michael and now John-freaking-Hughes? Jesus, my childhood is being decimated here. I know he hasn’t directed a movie since 1991’s infamous flop “Curly Sue” — which I will forever refuse to see — but John Hughes was nothing short of the cinematic voice of my generation.

Seriously, I cannot even begin to tell you how his writing influenced my own. Sure, “Star Wars” made me wanna make movies in the first place and Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven” taught me how to write them, but John Hughes taught me everything I’d ever need to know about character.

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I mean, the man created some of the most iconic, imminently quotable onscreen characters of all time and in doing so had a hand in bringing to life some of my favorite movies ever. My family and I watched “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (which Hughes wrote) so many times that we just about blew out our creaky old RCA Videodisc player.

And when he started directing, forget about it. When she was a kid, Christine rented and watched “The Breakfast Club” every day for a week and a half…a week and a half! And when “Pretty in Pink” opened in theatres, I remember going with my friends to see it every Saturday night for three weeks straight. Even cooler still was the fact that the same people from my high school were there every week too. We even sat in the same seats…it was insanity!

And though I never felt the same undying love for “Sixteen Candles” and “Ferris Beuller”, I did rediscover “Uncle Buck” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” in recent years and love them to death.

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I think the thing I most loved about Hughes’ writing was that his characters felt real and lived-in. And though many have tried to replicate his voice over the years — you don’t even wanna know how many times I’ve heard studio execs say they want something kinda John Hughes-ish, urgh! — no one could ever balance humor and pathos like the man himself. And the music he used…wow, I owned every one of those soundtracks back in the day!

Actually, wait, Cameron Crowe (another hero of mine!) used to do a pretty good job of that too. But Crowe aside, there was something very pure and truly original about the stuff Hughes created during the 1980’s.

Sure, he lost focus a bit when he got all kid-friendly with “Home Alone” and shit, but even that movie has that patented Hughes warmth and messiness all over it. That family wasn’t perfect, they were flawed and human and goofy and even stupid sometimes, but you loved them.

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Same thing with “Pretty in Pink”…I mean, love or hate the sell-out ending, the shit his teen queen muse, Molly Ringwald, went through in that movie was as real as real gets, baby. I mean, hello, her Dad was a lonely, unemployed loser still reeling from his wife leaving them…yikes, how much more real can you get?

And while there is a certain slick, artificial veneer to many of the greatest films of the 1980’s, Hughes films were different somehow. His movies had heart and soul and I know it sounds corny, but they were kinda timeless. And the cool factor? Man alive, his best characters didn’t follow crazy 80’s trends, they set them.

And Hughes himself didn’t just capture the zeitgeist of the 80’s, he created it on film for the whole world to see and enjoy. And for that, and so much more, I salute you, Mr. Hughes. You have left us way too soon, amigo, but your voice, your sweetly sad humor and your indelible characters will live on forever…

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Sydney Pollack (1934-2008)

Christine and I were both very sad to hear that legendary, Oscar-winning director/producer, Sydney Pollack passed away on Monday at the age of 73. Diagnosed with cancer nine months ago, Pollack died at his home in Pacific Palisades surrounded by his family.

I had been a fan of Pollack’s mid-career movies for years, especially “Out of Africa” and “The Way We Were” — which our family watched almost every weekend on movie night — but it wasn’t until I was in film school at AFI that I got a true appreciation for what a bang-up director he really was.

The first time I saw “Three Days of the Condor” I was kind of blown away. The quintessential paranoid 1970’s political thriller, this movie not only rocked hard, but it changed the way espionage movies were made.

Starring frequent collaborator and longtime-friend, Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway and a creepy Max von Sydow as the ultimate Euro-heavy, “Condor” shot to the list of my all-time-favorite movies overnight. And even though it came out in 1975, this taut, suspenseful thrill ride is anything but dated.

In fact, the timeless stylistic influence of “Condor” can be felt even today in scores or like-minded knockoffs (“Munich” and the “Bourne” movies to name a few) and even in last year’s vastly underrated “Michael Clayton”, which Pollack co-starred in and exec-produced.

What I liked most about Pollack’s films was that they weren’t flabby. There was nothing extra, no fat, just tight action, romance, adventure or whatever and some damn fine acting to boot. If you can compare him to anyone, he kind of reminds me of John Huston, who, ironically, also acted in several of his own films.

Like Huston, Pollack was a visceral, masculine director who could take something as potentially cheesy and syrupy as “The Way We Were” and make it real and authentic. Other directors might have skated by on the sheer star power of Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, but not Pollack.

His skillful direction — and a knockout script by Arthur Laurents and an an uncredited David Rayfiel — turned these potentially larger than life characters into living, breathing people, who we loved and hated, sometimes in the very same scene. Hell yes, you still cried at the end, but those tears were earned, baby.

A master of the silent emotional scene, Pollack also knew when to back off and let his movies breathe and this was never more apparent than in “Out of Africa”. Arguably his best known film, “Africa” — which won an amazing seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Pollack — has some of the most beautiful dialog-free scenes ever put to film.

Sure the airplane close-ups are totally blue-screened, but “Africa”, like John Huston’s classic “The African Queen” makes those lingering nature-filled silences speak volumes about the characters. I mean, wow, when Meryl Streep grabs that handful of sand at the end, you can almost feel that shit in your palm. Amazing…

And “Tootsie”? Wow…words can’t describe how influential this movie was to me as a kid. Every scene is comic writing gold. I remember laughing so hard when we first saw it that my brother and I missed most of the jokes and had to see it again the following weekend. Hilarious!

And though I wasn’t a huge fan of several of his recent directorial efforts — “The Interpreter”, “Random Hearts” and the Redford-starring bomb “Havana” — the bold, daring choices Pollack made as a producer never ceased to amaze me: “Sliding Doors”, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, “Cold Mountain”, “The Quiet American”, “Sense and Sensibilty”, “Iris” and the mind-blowing “Michael Clayton” to name just a few. True, these movies weren’t always huge hits, but, man alive, they were always interesting.

Even cooler than his choices as a producer were the films Sydney Pollack chose to act in. Sure, his roles in his own movies always rocked — his performance in “Tootsie” alone sealed his street cred as a talented thespian in my eyes! — but I absolutely loved him in other people’s movies too.

My favorite will always be his loutish turn as Woody Allen’s newly-divorced friend in Allen’s pitch-perfect “Husbands & Wives”. Because of it’s unfortunate timing — the movie came out at the height of the Mia-Woody-Soon Yi mess — I think “Husbands” has always been kind of overlooked. But any true Woody Allen fan will tell you that this is one of his best movies ever.

And Pollack’s work here was just as worthy of Oscar attention as Judy Davis’s in my book. The scene where Pollack fights with his way-too-young-for-him girlfriend at a party is so real it’s almost painful to watch. And knowing that he was such a cool dude in person makes me appreciate his acting even more.

Sometimes, just the mere presence of Pollack in a movie or TV show lent the whole affair some class. “The Sopranos”, “Will & Grace”, “Frasier”, hell, I even liked him in “Changing Lanes” and that movie — which I half-watched on an airplane — was so God-awful, I wanted to pull the exit door open and jump out.

But I think my favorite memory of Sydney Pollack will be the time I spent listening to him speak at one of the Harold Llyod Master Seminars at AFI in 1994. Christine had snuck in with me to watch “Three Days of the Condor” on the big screen and stayed for the entire seminar.

Speaking onstage for about an hour and a half, Pollack talked about his favorite movies, his directing style, why he directs, actors, anything and everything you could imagine…and it was absolutely riveting. Trust me, I sat through a lot of those seminars, and Pollack’s was one of the best, and mostly that was due to the fact that the man, like his movies, was real.

Not only was Pollack a joy to listen to, but he projected such warmth and generosity of spirit that he totally endeared himself to both Christine and I forever more. And while I can’t speak for all the burgeoning film students that were in the theatre that day, I can tell you for damn sure that the super cool Sydney Pollack left his mark on me.

So, rest in peace, amigo. You will be sorely missed…

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