#399. Daniel Craig

Separating a character from an iconic role can be difficult. In some ways, audiences will always associate the actor with the part that made them a household name. This is especially true of long-running franchises who have singular main characters. I’m sure plenty of people knew who Daniel Craig was before he portrayed James Bond in Casino Royale (2006), but he certainly made his name known after then. It’s weird to think people were upset that someone with light hair and light eyes could play James Bond, considering how he’s really owned the role for the last 13 years. This name recognition likely earned him many other parts over the years, but occasionally he’s able to break out of that “action hero” typecast and have some fun. This week’s two films highlight some non-James Bond roles for Daniel Craig.

The Adventures of TintinThe Adventures of Tintin
Year: 2011
Rating: PG
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

While most of Craig’s roles have been more action- and drama-oriented, there have been a few instances where he’s done something a little against type. Even in family-friendly fare like The Golden Compass (2007) to doing voice work in foreign animated films like Renaissance (2006), Daniel Craig has mostly used his versatile talent to play somewhat similar “hero” archetypes. Occasionally, he’s been able to portray distinctly different characters, even to the point where movies like Logan Lucky (2017) have used the phrase “introducing Daniel Craig” in their trailers. Sometimes, he is almost indistinguishable to the point where an audience gets to the credits and learns that Daniel Craig was in the movie (except for an uncredited cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)). For me, this was the case when I reached the end of The Adventures of Tintin (2011).

Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig) unsuccessfully tried to buy a model of a ship from a young boy named Tintin (Jamie Bell). The model of the Unicorn was stolen when Tintin went to the library to investigate its past, which led him to suspect Ivan of the theft. While Tintin’s model was broken the night before, he finds that Ivan already has a model of the Unicorn, and it’s fully intact. Upon discovering a scroll that was hidden in the model, Tintin realizes why Ivan wants the duplicate model. When Ivan sends men to kidnap Tintin and retrieve the scroll, the young protagonist meet’s the ship’s drunk captain, Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), who has been overthrown by the crew’s mutiny. Traveling with Tintin to find the third Unicorn model and scroll, Haddock realizes he’s the great ancestor of the Unicorn’s original captain. With the third scroll found, Ivan’s relation to the Unicorn is also revealed.

Cowboys & AliensCowboys & Aliens
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

While Layer Cake (2004) likely earned Daniel Craig his spot as the most recent James Bond, movies like The Invasion (2007), Defiance (2008), and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) helped bridge the gaps between Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008), and Skyfall (2012), respectively. While his time as James Bond is coming to an end with his most recent portrayal next year, one wonders what kinds of films he’ll do next. As mentioned before, much of his work has been action- or drama-oriented, so movies like Cowboys & Aliens (2011)—which fuse both western and sci-fi genres—have shown he can somewhat break out of these genres and into others that lie adjacent to them. I’d certainly like to see him in either a serious western or sprawling sci-fi in the future, but for right now I have to stick with Cowboys & Aliens.

Waking up in the middle of the desert with no memory of who he is, a mysterious man heads into the nearest town to learn that he is Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) and that he is wanted by the law. After being captured, Jake is almost handed over to Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), who was the victim of Jake’s thieving ways. Jake’s one saving grace is that aliens attack the town and abduct many of the townsfolk, thus adding confusion and chaos to the situation that allows him to escape. With the appearance of the aliens, Jake remembers that he stole Dolarhyde’s gold to give to the aliens and that the mysterious bracelet on his arm is a weapon, which he uses to down one of the alien craft. As Jake regains the remainder of his memories, he teams up with Dolarhyde to take down the aliens that are stealing gold and abducting humans so they can learn our weakness and conquer Earth.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 characters played by Daniel Craig

Bacon #: 2 (Quantum of Solace / David Harbour -> Black Mass / Kevin Bacon)

#396. Tim Allen

While it seems most actors strive to eventually escape from the small screen of television for the big screen of movies, some of these actors find the realm of Hollywood is a lot different from their experiences in television. Of course, Hollywood also scopes out actors who have proven themselves successful in television so the name-recognition can transfer over to the movies they’d star in, thus bringing in more money. This transition can often happen at the end of an actor’s popular television series, sometimes as a way to continue their career past the finale of the series. But what happens if the movie career doesn’t pan out? These actors will often fade into obscurity or will return to the medium that made them famous in the first place. Tim Allen seems to be just such an actor. This week’s two films highlight some of the best of Tim Allen’s movie roles.

Galaxy Quest!Galaxy Quest!
Year: 1999
Rating: PG-13
Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours

It’s truly no surprise that Tim Allen trended toward comedies during his time on the big screen. His origins in stand-up comedy helped land him the leading role in the television show, Home Improvement, after all. Perhaps due to the family-friendly nature of his television show, most of the roles he ended up portraying in cinema were in movies considered to be “family-friendly,” even if the humor in them was prominently slapstick in nature. Movies like Jungle 2 Jungle (1997), Galaxy Quest! (1999), Big Trouble (2002), Christmas with the Kranks (2004), and Wild Hogs (2007) all seem to exhibit these traits. By the time he directed his first film, Crazy on the Outside (2010), the novelty of his Home Improvement fame had mostly worn off. Since then, he has successfully transitioned back to television with the show Last Man Standing.

Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) has been riding high on the ego-stroking fan conventions for the cult science fiction television show, Galaxy Quest. While his co-stars have usually had to endure his off-screen antics with eye-rolling sighs, they inevitably go along for the conventions, since they were part of the show as well. When Jason is approached by some individuals he thinks are fans, he soon finds himself in outer space aboard a perfect—and functional—replica of the spaceship from the show. It’s at this point when the Thermians reveal themselves to be actual aliens in need of assistance. They are unaware of the fictional nature of the show and believe these actors can help them defeat the warlord who wants to see their race obliterated. With the initially-reluctant help of the other actors, Jason manages to re-live his time on Galaxy Quest by going on an actual galactic journey.

Toy Story 2Toy Story 2
Year: 1999
Rating: G
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

Tim Allen was fortunate enough during his movie career to have leading roles in at least two franchises. The Santa Clause (1994) was his first significant foray into cinema during the height of his popularity. This film spawned two sequels, The Santa Clause 2 (2002) and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006). While it’s been more than a decade since the last Santa Clause film, Tim Allen is still acting in the Toy Story franchise, with the fourth installment set to release this year. Much in the same way The Santa Clause propelled him into the movies, Toy Story (1995) has allowed Allen to expand his craft via voice acting. While most will know his performance as Buzz Lightyear in films like Toy Story 2 (1999), Toy Story 3 (2010), and Toy Story 4 (2019)—along with a smattering of short films set in the Toy Story universe—he also used this skill in the live-action film, The Shaggy Dog (2006).

After Woody (Tom Hanks) is accidentally sold at a garage sale, it’s up to Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) to rescue his friend from the cheese-snack-encrusted hands of the toy collector, Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight). Buzz learns Al is the eponymous owner of “Al’s Toy Barn,” and sets out with the other toys to get Woody back. Meanwhile, Woody learns he’s actually the lead character from an iconic 1950s television show known as Woody’s Roundup. At this revelation, Woody decides that being on display in a museum wouldn’t be so bad since Andy would eventually grow up and get rid of him anyway. When Buzz finally arrives in Al’s apartment to save Woody, he has to remind the stuffed cowboy that toys are meant to be played with. Unfortunately, just as Woody is about to escape, he’s taken away to the airport. Buzz must race to catch the plane and make sure Woody isn’t on it.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 terrific Tim Allen roles

Bacon #: 2 (For Richer or Poorer / Wayne Knight -> JFK / Kevin Bacon)

#394. Chris Pratt

Have you ever noticed how some actors just seem to burst onto the scene? Like, one day they’re on a moderately-popular television show, then the next day they’re starring in many successful movies. Sometimes, a bit of luck is involved when an actor chooses to make a concerted effort in developing their film career. If they make the right choices and pursue the projects that end up making them stars overnight, then they’re almost immediately established as an A-list celebrity. Actors like Chris Pratt definitely fall into this category. As the television show Parks and Recreation increased in popularity, he was given more chances to expand his acting to the big screen. Then, almost suddenly, he had three starring roles that propelled him into the limelight for years to come. This week’s two films highlight the meteoric rise of Chris Pratt.

The LEGO MovieThe LEGO Movie
Year: 2014
Rating: PG
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

Partly because Chris Pratt became a household name almost overnight, there are many films before his breakthrough that show he paid his dues with smaller roles before moving up to the big time. Bit parts in movies like Wanted (2008) eventually led to roles in movies with more critical prestige like Moneyball (2011), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), and Her (2013), all three of which were nominated for Best Picture. Of course, most people knew him as lovable Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation, which is probably why one of his breakout films was also a comedy. What also helped was the franchise potential of the films he starred in during 2014. While The LEGO Movie (2014) was his first starring role, it essentially guaranteed he would be back to play Emmet Brickowski in this year’s sequel, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (2019).

In a world created from a wide variety of LEGO bricks, Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) blends into the crowd as a construction worker who isn’t particularly unique. This all changes when he falls down a hole at his construction site and wakes up attached to the legendary “Piece of Resistance.” This item is the key to stop Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from using the “Kragle” to freeze the entirety of the LEGO realms. A resistance of “Master Builders” is dead-set against this plan, since it means all creativity that comes with rearranging and rebuilding would be eliminated. As the rebellion tries to get Emmet and the “Piece of Resistance” to Lord Business’ headquarters, the enemy attacks and leaves a wave of destruction in their wake. In a last-ditch effort, the Emmet infiltrates the base and soon finds the “reality” of the situation is outside his control unless he can become a Master Builder himself.

Guardians of the GalaxyChris Pratt
Year: 2014
Rating: PG-13
Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours

While The LEGO Movie started a franchise, the other half of Chris Pratt’s success seems to have come from joining larger franchises that were already well-established. Even if Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) wasn’t its own successful franchise yet, it was part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, which helped spur some of its success. This led to two sequels, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017) and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 (2021), as well as the inclusion of Pratt’s character in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and its follow-up sequel, Avengers: Endgame (2019) a year later. And yet, the physical conditioning Pratt underwent to play the role of Star-Lord likely helped him land a starring role in the Jurassic Park (1993) reboot/sequel, Jurassic World (2015), and its sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018).

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has been wandering the universe under the pseudonym of “Star-Lord” for almost three decades, making the best of being abducted from Earth back in 1988. Finding a mysterious orb on planet Morag, Quill soon discovers that many others are interested in obtaining said orb. Due to the ruckus they cause in public, Peter is detained with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an assassin sent to retrieve the orb, as well as with Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), a genetically modified raccoon and a “talking” tree, respectively. The trio escapes prison, along with Drax (Dave Bautista), who has a vendetta against Gamora’s adoptive father, Thanos (Josh Brolin). The four of them learn the orb contains a legendary Infinity Stone, which leads to an all-out battle over the skies of Xandar, which ends in the most unexpected of ways: a dance-off instigated by Star-Lord.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 prime opportunities for Chris Pratt to rise to stardom

Bacon #: 2 (Avengers: Infinity War / Mark Ruffalo -> In the Cut / Kevin Bacon)

#390. Steve Carell

Anyone who was watching television in the mid-2000s was likely aware of NBC’s mockumentary sitcom, The Office. Even today, you’re likely to find this show on syndication somewhere on cable television. If you’ve seen an episode of the show, you’ll likely recognize Steve Carell as the boss of the eponymous office, Michael Scott. While he started out in television, Carell has worked his way up to motion pictures. Initially, Carell mostly stuck to his talent of comedy and performed in genre films of the same type. Over time, he has expanded his acting chops and shown he can handle serious roles as well. This progression from television to comedies to dramas is pretty standard for comedic actors, and Steve Carell was no different. This week’s two films highlight some of the dramas and comedies of Steve Carell.

Dan in Real LifeDan in Real Life
Year: 2007
Rating: PG-13
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours

Sometimes the transition from comedy to drama can be, well . . . dramatic. Other times, there’s enough of a range of comedies to allow for a somewhat smoother transition. Case in point: the dark comedy. These can be edgier works like Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) or Knocked Up (2007). They can also be Oscar darlings like Little Miss Sunshine (2006), The Big Short (2015), or Vice (2018). Sometimes they’re straight up depressing like Dan in Real Life (2007) or Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012). In any case, these darker and edgier comedies eventually lead the way to more serious dramas like Foxcatcher (2014), which earned Steve Carell his first Best Actor Oscar nomination. Pretty soon, these dramas start to happen more regularly. In Carell’s case, films like Last Flag Flying (2017), Beautiful Boy (2018), and Welcome to Marwen (2018) have few comedic moments in them, if any at all.

As a widower trying to raise three girls, Dan Burns (Steve Carell), is having trouble figuring out his own life while he writes advice for others via his newspaper column. Nothing seems to break his depression. Even a visit to Rhode Island to meet up with his family for their annual gathering doesn’t help. As luck would have it, he runs across a woman in a bookstore who piques his interest. The two seem to hit it off, but Marie (Juliette Binoche) is hesitant to lead him any further since she has a boyfriend already. As it just so happens, her boyfriend is Dan’s brother Mitch (Dane Cook). With Marie participating in the family activities, Dan has more opportunities to fall in love with her, even if he knows she’s “off limits.” During the family talent show, he lets slip his true feelings, which starts a series of events in motion that will change everyone’s lives.

Despicable MeDespicable Me
Year: 2010
Rating: PG
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

While Steve Carell still does comedies, they’re certainly where he got his start. Interestingly enough, quite a few of his comedies have spawned sequels, thus giving him more opportunities to show off his comedic talent. Before The Office started, Carell was in films like Bruce Almighty (2003) and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). These films led to Evan Almighty (2007), and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), respectively. Even though Carell has also acted in other comedies like Get Smart (2008) and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013), his longest series to date has been as a voice actor in the Despicable Me franchise. First appearing in 2010’s Despicable Me, Carell has been voicing the main character, Gru, in the sequels, Despicable Me 2 (2013) and Despicable Me 3 (2017), as well as the spin-off, Minions (2015).

After being foiled on a recent attempt to steal the Great Pyramids, Gru (Steve Carell) needs a loan from the Bank of Evil to execute his next nefarious scheme: stealing the moon. Of course, the bank needs to know that Gru can actually pull off this villainous heist and requires he obtain the necessary shrink ray before they loan him the money. This leads Gru to Vector (Jason Segel), a rival supervillain with better technology and resources. In the course of many failed attempts, Gru learns Vector’s weakness: cookies sold by three orphan girls. Rushing out to adopt said girls, Gru wants to use them to infiltrate Vector’s lab but soon finds the responsibilities of being an adopted parent are interfering with his villainy. This all comes to a head when his one opportunity to steal the moon occurs on the very same night as the girls’ dance recital. Which part of his life will he prioritize?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Steve Carell classics

Bacon #: 1 (Crazy, Stupid, Love \ Kevin Bacon)

#381. Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix is one of those actors who started acting in their childhood, and has been in plenty of movies but gained notoriety for their later work. Consequently, when people go back to watch their earlier works, they’ll exclaim, “I didn’t know _______ was in this!” One does wonder what growing up in the movie industry does to an individual, either turning them to addictions or erratic behaviors. Sometimes these individuals turn out fine, but the dramatic nature of the profession is a hard habit to break. Joaquin Phoenix seems to fall somewhere in between. He’s shown he can be a successful actor in a variety of roles, but he’s also had a few “moments” that people are still trying to figure out. For Joaquin, his acting career can be easily divided between pre- and post- “retirement.” This week’s two films highlight movies made on either side of Joaquin Phoenix’s hiatus.

Walk the LineWalk the Line
Year: 2005
Rating: PG-13
Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours

Even though Joaquin Phoenix started his acting career around the age of 11, he didn’t really break out until the turn of the millennium. Working on projects like Signs (2002), and The Village (2004) with M. Night Shyamalan, Joaquin Phoenix gradually started becoming a household name. Of course, most knew who he was after he earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Commodus in Gladiator (2000). His nominations for Best Actor would come through his involvement in Walk the Line (2005) and The Master (2013). While he hasn’t won an Oscar yet, it’s clear he has the ability to in the future. After all, he has worked with plenty of critically-acclaimed directors like Gus Van Sant, Oliver Stone, and Paul Thomas Anderson, both before and after his “autobiography,” I’m Still Here (2010).

Perhaps Joaquin Phoenix’s best shot for earning the Oscar for Best Actor was as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. This biopic follows Cash as he finds his way into the fame and fortune of country music built on his song, “Folsom Prison Blues.” Now that he has a contract and a band, Cash starts touring the country, eventually meeting June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). Both Johnny and June are married, but even after June divorces her husband, she does not reciprocate Cash’s feelings. This drives Johnny to drugs and alcohol, which makes things awkward when she does finally give in to his wooing. Cash falls down the slippery slope of addiction, eventually being jailed for illegal drugs. Of course, this ends up giving him more credibility, especially to the fans of his who appreciated the lyrics of “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Year: 2013
Rating: R
Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours

I would be amiss to not mention Joaquin Phoenix’s behavior surrounding the documentary I’m Still Here. While it’s since been labeled as a mockumentary to highlight how “reality” can be scripted (like in “reality television”), Joaquin’s drastic transformation from an actor to a bearded hip-hop singer caught most people’s attention. Sure, he was “in character” during this time, culminating in the release of I’m Still Here, but he had to be that character everywhere he went, which sold the commitment to his “retirement” from acting. Even if this wasn’t a real retirement, he still took a brief hiatus afterward to let the experience fade from people’s minds. Since this hiatus, one of his most memorable performances has been that of Theodore Twombly in Spike Jonze’s almost prophetic vision of the future: Her (2013).

In a not-to-distant future where people need to hire someone to write emotional letters for them, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is employed as a writer of such letters. Despite his ability to express deep emotions through his writing, he struggles with his own loneliness and depression after the divorce from his wife. To help himself cope, he buys an artificial intelligence-based Operating System (OS) for his computer. This Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a female voice and names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Samantha and Theodore gradually fall in love, which makes for an awkward conversation when he meets with his wife to sign the divorce papers. Unfortunately, Samantha’s AI nature leads to other, unconventional relationship problems that eventually results in the two of them separating, albeit amicably and on good terms.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 perfect Joaquin Phoenix roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Yards / Charlize Theron -> Trapped / Kevin Bacon)

#378. Kevin Kline

Some actors naturally have a flair for the dramatic. This is often due to their work in the theatre before making the transition to movies. Sometimes, this can lead to overacting, or choosing overly dramatic roles. Sometimes, this allows an actor to have a broader range of roles they can play. In the end, the preparation in the theatre is certainly put to good use by the time an actor reaches the big screen. The theatrical background can often be seen in which movies these actors choose to do. If the film is based on a play or musical, they usually have a leg up in understanding how the piece should be performed. These actors might even find their years of voice training allow them to work in animation as well. Kevin Kline is just such an actor. This week’s two films highlight some of his best work.

Sophie’s ChoiceSophie's Choice
Year: 1982
Rating: R
Length: 150 minutes / 2.50 hours

The staple of the theatre actor is the twin muses of Melpomene and Thalia. Kevin Kline certainly started off strong with his portrayal of Nathan Landau in Sophie’s Choice (1982). Nathan’s life is full of passion, violence, and (inevitable) tragedy. On the flip side of this coin, we have Kline’s performance as Otto West in A Fish Called Wanda (1988). This hilarious role earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. While his later work has been considerably more lighthearted than Sophie’s Choice, part of the reason for this is due to his occasional role as a voice actor in such family-friendly fare. Animated films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), The Road to El Dorado (2000), and The Tale of Despereaux (2008) have used Kline’s vocal talents. Still, sometimes actors have to prove their acting chops during their first appearance in the movies.

Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline) lives in Brooklyn with his Polish-immigrant girlfriend, Sophie Zawistowski (Meryl Streep). Both of them met shortly after Sophie landed in the United States. She almost died due to anemia, but Nathan managed to help her through it. When Stingo (Peter MacNicol) arrives in Brooklyn, the three of them become friends, even if Nathan becomes violently jealous when Sophie is around other men. Nathan is proud to announce that some of the pharmaceutical work he’s doing is likely to earn him the Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, as Sophie and Stingo soon find out, Nathan is actually a paranoid schizophrenic who only works in the library of the pharmaceutical company. After Sophie runs off with Stingo, she eventually comes back to Nathan, and the two of them die in each other’s arms.

Year: 2004
Rating: PG-13
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

Any good actor worth their salt in the theatre would also have some musical talent as well. Shortly after his breakout role in Sophie’s Choice, Kevin Kline starred in a film adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, The Pirates of Penzance (1983). Aside from this musical, he has also been involved with other notable plays with movie adaptations, including The Nutcracker (1993) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999). His musical chops were really put to the test when he portrayed Cole Porter in De-Lovely (2004). There are many familiar songs written by Porter, including “Let’s Misbehave,” “Anything Goes,” “You’re the Top,” and the titular “It’s De-Lovely.” Since many people can recognize at least one of these songs, Kline needed to make sure he could do the songs the justice they deserved.

Even though Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) is secretly gay, his wife, Linda Lee Thomas (Ashley Judd) is willing to go along with the ruse. Her first marriage had the same conditions, but Porter is much more non-violent and affectionate than her ex. With Linda as his muse, Cole’s music earns him wealth and fame that allows both of them to live in luxury. Even with his occasional homosexual fling, Linda remains faithful to their marriage. The miscarriage of their first child devastates her, so Cole decides to move them to Hollywood and continue his musical career. Unfortunately, he becomes bolder in his extra-marital activities, which is caught on camera and used to blackmail him. This is more than Linda can take, so she leaves him and returns to Paris. Porter is never the same after this, especially after Linda dies from emphysema years later.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Kevin Kline classics

Bacon #: 2 (A Midsummer Night’s Dream / Sam Rockwell -> Frost/Nixon / Kevin Bacon)

#357. Leslie Nielsen

Most actors will know early in their career which genres work best for them. Whether it’s John Wayne and westerns or Boris Karloff and horror, these actors will usually excel in their respective genres for their entire career. Other actors may find that they can act in a particular style, but can’t seem to achieve success doing so. In these instances, some actors will switch genres to determine a fit that works for them. In terms of changing styles, many comedic actors can sometimes find success in drama, but the opposite is rarely true. Comedy requires a different understanding of acting, including facial expressions, deadpan deliveries, and . . . timing. And yet, while the transition from drama to comedy is rare, actors like Leslie Nielsen have found success in doing so. This week’s two films highlight two of Leslie Nielsen’s best comedies.

Year: 1980
Rating: PG
Length: 88 minutes / 1.47 hours

If I told you Leslie Nielsen didn’t act in a comedy until 24 years into his career, you’d likely respond with, “Surely, you can’t be serious!” And yet, this is the honest truth (and don’t call me Shirley). From films like Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Nielsen managed to develop a career as the “serious” archetype. So, when a movie like Airplane! (1980) came along, many thought the film was going to be a serious “disaster” film along the lines of The Towering Inferno (1974) or the aforementioned The Poseidon Adventure. Leslie Nielsen’s deadpan acting of comedic lines merely accentuated the silliness that is contained in this disaster parody. One would almost wonder if Nielsen could have entered comedy earlier without developing the more serious personas to play against for maximum contrast and maximum comedy.

Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) is on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago when many of the passengers start to show symptoms of food poisoning. Rumack can make the diagnosis because, between the options of steak or fish, he had the lasagna. Unfortunately, the flight crew all had fish, so now it’s up to flight attendant Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) to find someone who can fly the plane. As it just so happens, her former boyfriend, Ted Striker (Robert Hays), is aboard and has the skills as a former fighter pilot to land safely. Of course, his PTSD has affected his nerves, leading to his “drinking” problem. Dr. Rumack pulls Striker aside to let him know what’s at stake here. Through a bit of coaxing and encouragement, Rumack convinces Striker to fly the plane just as they come within range of landing at Chicago.

The Naked GunThe Naked Gun
Year: 1988
Rating: PG-13
Length: 85 minutes / 1.42 hours

After the success of Airplane!, the directors gave Leslie Nielsen a starring role in a television parody of detective shows known as Police Squad! This show eventually spun off into The Naked Gun film series, which included From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991), and 331/3: The Final Insult (1994). By the time these films were concluded, Leslie Nielsen’s association with comedy was undeniable. He would go on to act in a number of other parodies, including Mel BrooksDracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), the James Bond parody, Spy Hard (1996), as well as a number of pop culture collage parodies like Scary Movie 3 (2003) and Scary Movie 4 (2006). Nielsen’s ability to never take himself that seriously was even exemplified after his death in 2010, with the epitaph on his gravestone being a simple fart joke: “Let ‘er rip.”

Upon returning from his vacation to Beirut, where he inadvertently foiled the plans of all of America’s enemies, Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) must exonerate the Police Squad from drug charges before Queen Elizabeth II (Jeannette Charles) arrives in Los Angeles. As the Queen’s security for the visit, any negative press on the Police Squad could be detrimental to the whole department. Meanwhile, drug lord Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalbán) had developed a plan to create a sleeper assassin to take out the Queen. In a plan reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Ludwig hopes to use a beeper to trigger his assassin. To keep the Police Squad from foiling his plans, Ludwig assigns his assistant, Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley), to distract Lieutenant Drebin. Through Drebin’s bumbling, he manages to save the day, while also preventing his own death at Jane’s hands by proposing to her.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 laugh-filled Leslie Nielsen roles

Bacon #: 2 (Nuts / Eli Wallach -> Mystic River / Kevin Bacon)

#355. Rick Moranis

When it comes to Hollywood, we often see an actor’s work/life balance skewed heavily toward the “work” side of the continuum. How many divorces have resulted from these actors and actresses spending so much time in their career that they don’t have time for their significant other? Furthermore, if children are part of the relationship, where do actors find the time for those nurturing moments of parenthood amidst the crazy filming schedules of the movie industry? At the end of the day, these individuals need to determine their priorities in life, as we all must do when choosing between our work and our home life. Over the years, there have been few actors who have decided to focus on their family instead of their acting career. Rick Moranis is just such an actor. This week’s two films highlight some of Rick Moranis’ most successful roles before he took a hiatus to raise his family.

Honey, I Shrunk the KidsHoney, I Shrunk the Kids
Year: 1989
Rating: PG
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

At the age of 62, Cary Grant retired from acting to raise his newborn daughter. While Grant had a wildly successful film career, he realized his role in his daughter’s life was much more important. Similarly, when Rick Moranis was widowed in 1991, he essentially became a single parent who had to raise two kids. Even though he continued to act for the next few years, he eventually realized he needed a hiatus to focus on the already complicated task of being a single father to his children. Two years before his wife’s death, Moranis starred in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). This film eventually received two sequels, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992) and the direct-to-video Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves (1997). This third installment was Moranis’ last live-action film before his hiatus. He did some voice acting in a few more films like Brother Bear (2003), but since 2006, he has yet to return to acting.

Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) has a lot on his plate. From trying to fix his new shrinking ray for a conference he’s attending in the next few days to raising a family of two kids in the suburbs, Wayne is trying to do it all, even at the detriment of his marriage. While he must leave for his conference, he tasks his kids to clean up the house before his wife gets home from spending the night at her mother’s house. Laughed off the stage for providing no proof that his shrink ray works, he comes home to find his house empty and an attic window broken. When his wife returns home, they make up, only to realize their children are missing. A realization about the broken window causes Wayne to discover that his shrink ray does actually work and that it has shrunk their children. Carefully searching the area, Wayne eventually finds the kids in his morning cereal and is able to return them to normal size.

Year: 1987
Rating: PG
Length: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours

If there was a genre Rick Moranis excelled in, it was comedy. A Canadian-born actor, Moranis broke into the comedy scene through the Canadian television show, SCTV. Because of his work on this sketch comedy show, he made the transition to the big screen with Strange Brew (1983), reprising his role of Bob McKenzie from the show. The following year, Moranis would be a part of Ghostbusters (1984) as the demon-possessed Louis Tully. He would also reprise this role in the sequel, Ghostbusters II (1989), albeit as the Ghostbusters’ lawyer instead of their enemy. Aside from his leading role in the musical Little Shop of Horrors (1986), perhaps his most well-known role was that of Lord Dark Helmet from the Star Wars (1977) parody, Spaceballs (1987). While Moranis has yet to find an acting role to break his hiatus, with the renewed cultural interest in Star Wars, a Spaceballs sequel just might do it.

As part of a plan to steal the air from nearby planet Druidia, President Skroob (Mel Brooks) of Planet Spaceball sends Lord Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) to kidnap the princess of Druidia on her wedding day. Unfortunately, before Dark Helmet can get there, Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) abandons her own wedding and is picked up by Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his mog companion, Barf (John Candy). Dark Helmet pursues Lone Starr but overshoots when he commands the spaceship, Spaceball One, into “ludicrous speed.” Fortunately, using a VHS of the movie, Dark Helmet is able to learn that Lone Starr and Vespa crash-landed on the desert moon of Vega. After successfully kidnapping the princess, Dark Helmet manages to hold her ransom for the access codes to Druidia’s atmosphere shield. Can he successfully steal the planet’s air for President Skroob, or will Lone Star save the day?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Moranis milestones

Bacon #: 2 (Spaceballs / John Candy -> JFK / Kevin Bacon)

#351. The Joker

Perhaps the most recognizable villain in the realm of superheroes and comic books, The Joker stands as a stark antipode to the brooding darkness of Batman. The contrast of insane levity to serious vengeance has made The Joker the best example of an archenemy, a feat that has rarely (if ever) been topped. For decades, The Joker has gone through several iterations and style changes, some of which have been notorious for their extreme take on the character. Similarly, there have been many different actors who have portrayed The Joker over the years, with a few of them being somewhat questionable in their interpretation of the character as well. While most people associate the quintessence of The Joker via Mark Hamill’s voice acting for Batman: The Animated Series, this week’s two films will examine some different performances of the character in live action films.

The Dark KnightThe Dark Knight
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours

Following the superhero movie format, after Christopher Nolan’s Batman origin story, Batman Begins (2005), Nolan proceeded to use the Batman franchise’s most recognizable villain for the sequelThe Dark Knight (2008). Many fans of the Batman franchise were upset with the casting choice of Heath Ledger, not only due to his somewhat recent role in Brokeback Mountain (2005) but because there were plenty of comedians who were considered for the role at one point or other. Considering he posthumously won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, these concerns were assuaged by the time the film was released. A similar controversy surrounded the casting of Jared Leto in the role for Suicide Squad (2016), but that controversy was linked more to how The Joker looked, rather than who was playing him.

During a bank robbery that seemed to go wrong, a gang of clown-themed thieves is whittled down until a lone clown remains: The Joker (Heath Ledger). The local mafias of Gotham find themselves in a bind with Batman (Christian Bale) constantly thwarting their criminal efforts. The Joker steps in and offers to get rid of Batman for the mobs in exchange for half of their finances. He doesn’t even want the money . . . he just wants to watch the world burn. To “level the playing field,” The Joker starts interfering with the trial of mob financier Lau (Chin Han), killing people until Batman reveals his identity. District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) says he’s Batman, but The Joker sees through the ruse, thus providing the real Batman with a choice: save Dent or save his girlfriend, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). With The Joker in control of Gotham, only Batman can stop him.

Year: 1989
Rating: PG-13
Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours

Before 1989, the only version of The Joker to hit the big screen was Caesar Romero’s in Batman (1966). Using the same cast as the 1960s television series, this Batman film was far campier than the dark and gritty versions we know today. While Tim Burton is known for his dark imagery, there was still a modicum of camp to his Batman (1989). Comparatively, though, the Tim Burton version did succeed in transforming the caped crusader into a much darker motif and helped evolve the franchise into what we know today. If anything, Tim Burton helped people to understand that comic books aren’t necessarily for children. At any rate, for many years, Jack Nicholson’s performance as The Joker was considered the definitive representation on the big screen, especially as it was faithful to The Joker’s origin story from the comics.

Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is in the crosshairs of his mob boss, Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) for taking his mistress. Jack is saved by Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), who wants him as a witness against Grissom. Unfortunately, in the ensuing chaos, Batman (Michael Keaton) arrives and knocks Jack into a vat of chemicals. While most assume Jack is dead, he finds the chemicals have altered his appearance, giving him a clown-like face with a permanent smile. This disfigurement drives him mad, and he takes on the identity of “The Joker.” Through the chemical known as “Smilex,” The Joker terrorizes Gotham, leaving many people dead with a hideous grin on their faces. Realizing the truth about The Joker’s past and origins, Batman sets out to save Gotham and avenge his dead parents.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 takes on a classic villain

#350. Dead on Release

A variety of reasons can exist for an actor to not be alive by the time their movie is released. Some actors are old and die from natural causes (like Spencer Tracy, who died 17 days after the end of filming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967)). Others might be involved in accidents either on the set (like Brandon Lee in The Crow (1994)) or in the course of living their life (like Anton Yelchin from the Star Trek reboot). The entertainment community mourns the lives taken so early on in their careers, but many actors have died via suicide due to either their approach to acting or the pressure of acting influencing their decisions. Sometimes a mental illness that gives an actor their creativity can also drive them into a suicide as well. This week’s two films highlight some actors who died before their films were released.

Year: 1956
Rating: Approved
Length: 201 minutes / 3.35 hours

At the age of 24, James Dean was a star to be reckoned with. In four short years, he appeared in a handful of uncredited roles, but he also earned two back-to-back nominations for Best Actor in 1955 for East of Eden and in 1956 for Giant. The trick with his nomination for Giant was that he had been killed in a car accident late in 1955, thus making this nomination the first of its kind to be given posthumously. Not only did Dean die before the release of Giant, but he also died before the release of his most iconic role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). One can only speculate the amount of prestige such an actor would have accrued over a lifetime of acting. Even with only three credited movies to his name, the American Film Institute still placed him at #18 on their list of 50 top actors of the last century.

Jett Rink (James Dean) is a farmhand who works for Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) on his Texas ranch. When Bick brings home a lovely wife in Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), Jett is immediately stricken with her. He helps show her the ropes of the property, thus inspiring her to change some of the living conditions for the migrant workers. After the accidental death of Bick’s sister, who also ran the household and had a spat with Leslie, Jett is bequeathed a small portion of the property. After Jett finds oil on his land, he manages to become wealthier than the Benedicts. Jett, still enamored with Leslie, eventually starts dating her daughter, which further sours the relationship between him and Bick. After realizing his children will not follow in his footsteps, Bick finally allows Jett to drill for oil on the remainder of the Benedict property.

The Dark KnightThe Dark Knight
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours

Some actors die before their movies finish filming, leaving a noticeable gap in their performance. Actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman are noticeably absent from certain scenes in movies like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015). Some actors have their performances digitally completed and adjusted using CGI, or even sometimes completely created decades after their death (as was the case with Peter Cushing in Rogue One (2016)). While Heath Ledger had completed filming on The Dark Knight (2008), none of his scenes were altered after the fact by director Christopher Nolan. Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, but some feel his “method acting” approach helped push him over the edge via his role as The Joker. He is only one of two people who has posthumously won a Best Actor Oscar, the other being Peter Finch of Network (1976) fame.

After Batman (Christian Bale) has raised the stakes for Gotham’s crime-fighting, a new force has appeared to oppose him with a gospel of violence and chaos: the Joker (Heath Ledger). As Batman tries to rid the city of crime via his vigilante actions, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) tries to do so within the confines of the law. The Joker, having taken control of the majority of Gotham’s gangs, continues to escalate the situation to get Batman to reveal his true identity. Eventually, Batman finds himself in a corner as the Joker makes him decide between the lawful justice of District Attorney Harvey Dent, or Batman’s girlfriend, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). On top of this life-or-death decision, the Joker pits a ferry full of tourists against a boat full of terrorists in a game of “who will die first?” Batman, finally able to catch the Joker via a clever use of technology, must now retreat to the shadows.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 young actors gone too soon