Dustin Hoffman Films – Which Are Your Favorites?

Yesterday I was listening to Terry Gross on her National Public Radio show called Fresh Air. Around this area – Tampa/St.Pete/Bradenton/Sarasota the show airs at 12:00 PM and 7:00 PM. daily – or at least weekdays. The broadcast featured Bryan Cranston who will be forever remembered for his stunning role as Walter White on Breaking Bad. Currently, Cranston is trodding the boards on Broadway as former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in a limited engagement of the play All The Way which was authored by playwright Robert Schenkkan.

A bit further back, I heard a Fresh Air show with Terry Gross talking with Joaquin Phoenix who starred in Spike Jonze’s Her. You’d be amazed when you hear an actor discuss his craft, his methods, and what it takes to be a world-class actor. It is sort of like listening to the man behind the curtain, about whom we have been often told to not pay any attention to, or more accurately, the actor inside the role – in his own words

But it was only last week that I listened to the Fresh Air replay of a broadcast (originally in January of 2013) with actor Dustin Hoffman. Now this post is not going to be only about the Fresh Air interview of Hoffman, nor will I write a lengthy piece about my own interaction with Hoffman because no such event ever happened. Rather I am going to have a look at a few of what I consider my favorite Dustin Hoffman films.

From the first time we saw him as a new college graduate who learned in the same film the magic of the word ‘plastics’ and the wonders of love from Mrs. Robinson – we knew that this actor was going to be something special. And through the years, Hoffman has reflected our own lives on-screen as he aged. From the youthful and innocent Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate to the ancient one, Jack Crabb in Little Big Man, from the street-wise hustler that we remember as Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy to the damaged yet brilliant Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man, or maybe you recall him as a Pirate known as Captain Hook, a driven investigative reporter in All The President’s Men, or as a husband whose marriage is on the rocks (Kramer vs. Kramer) when hasn’t Dustin Hoffman been a part of our lives with his wonderful performances serving almost as mile-markers for us?

As a comedian in Lenny, or a convict in Papillon, as the tired and slump-shouldered Willy Lomax in Death of a Salesman or as a man known as Babe who seemed perpetually on the run in Marathon Man. or even as a man and a woman while chasing the  dreams of an actor in Tootsie – Hoffman has always intrigued us with his skills, beguiled us with his talents, or energized us with his drive. 

The word 'plastics' did not come up in this scene. Instead we heard - You're trying to seduce me...

The word ‘plastics’ did not come up in this scene. Instead we heard – You’re trying to seduce me…aren’t you?

The 1960’s:

Dustin began his film career in a barely noticed small role in The Tiger Makes Out in 1967. But Hoffman got a seat on the rocket to stardom in his very next role, which was also a 1967 release, as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate directed by Mike Nichols. In 1967, Hoffman was 29-30 years old yet he gave an Oscar nominated performance as a young (21 year-old) college graduate just drifting along.

That was 47 years ago. But before that, if you lived in New York in the early sixties, you may have dined at a restaurant and your waiter might have been Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, or Robert Duvall. They all knew each other in those days as they all were struggling young actors waiting on tables as they lived the ‘actor’s life’ and waited for the next big thing which was a part in a film. On The Fresh Air show Hoffman quoted himself from that time:

Sir, How is your salmon?

The 1970’s:

Dustin Hoffman headlined with Robert Redford in All The President’s Men. His role was that of the Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein. While personally Hoffman didn’t carry home any Oscars for All The President’s Men, the film walked off with 4 Oscars out of eight nominations. Check out this clip from Turner Classic Movies:

The 70’s were Mr. Hoffman’s best decade as a film actor. Besides All The President’s Men, Hoffman performed in eight other Oscar nominated films in this decade. Think of it – 9 Oscar nominated films in one decade by a single actor. The mind boggles.

The 1980’s: Continue reading

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Five Fingers (2006)

Five Fingers (2006) has Ryan Phillippe and Laurence Fishburne as the two leads. Basically, this is a psychological/suspense/spy movie. Phillippe plays Martijn, a blue-eyed blonde Dutch jazz pianist who will travel to Morocco, to set up a food program. Fishburne plays Ahmat, his Muslim terrorist interrogator.

Also on board is Touriya Haoud as Saadia who is Martijn’s Dutch Moroccan girl friend, Gina Torres as Aicha who plays the helpful female on Ahmat’s staff, and Colm Meaney as Gavin, a tour guide to help Phillippe’s Martijn navigate through Morocco.

To give you an idea of what to expect – Martijn is a jazz pianist. He has Saadia as his girl friend. We will see them romp and play on one of The Netherland’s idyllic North Sea beaches and we learn he will soon travel to Morocco to help set up a food program. Ostensibly it is a food charity to help the poor in third world Morocco.

He will hook up with his guide Gavin, and they depart from Amsterdam’s Schilphol Airport. From Rabat, they head out on a cross-country bus toward the Rif Mountains. While en route, both Martijn and Gavin are hijacked off the bus, rendered unconscious, and when they awake, they find themselves chained and manacled in an unused industrial factory or warehouse.

Fishburne as Ahmat believes Martijn to be a CIA Operative on a mission. He believe the food program is just a cover story. The interrogation begins. Soon the psychological torture become actual and physical torture. Gavin will be dealt with a certain finality, and Martijn is going to start losing his fingers one by one.

It is a battle of wills, of intelligence, and one of courage under the harshest of circumstances.

While this is a movie, as most of it is shot within the confines of this abandoned factory, and with the small size of the main cast, one can easily imagine the screenplay as a stage play. Directed by Laurence Malkin. and written by Malkin with Chad Thurmann the small confines serve to amp up the drama rather than simply confining it.

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Orphan Black: Season One – Episodes 1-3

A reader suggested that I take a look at Orphan Black, a 10 episode TV series that’s available on the BBC America channel. He suggested that I could get up to speed in plenty of time before the Season Two premieres in late mid April. Here’s what he wrote:

Orphan Black is very different than your standard procedural, even though one of the main characters is a detective.(Actually, she’s impersonating a suspended police detective who unknowingly stumbles into a multiple murder plot). The story is a cross of Blade Runner and Vertigo with lots of clever twists, but it does require suspension of disbelief. Tatiana Maslany, who plays multiple roles, is as good as you would expect from the BBC. I think she’s gonna have a nice career. 

I gave it a look. In fact I watched the first three episodes of Season One on Monday night, taking a break only to watch The Blacklist. As the opening scene of Season One Episode One begins we see a woman exit a train, then hang around on the train platform. We heard the station announcement as Huxley Station – which meant nothing to me other than sounding somewhat British. Now seeing how I am watching this show on BBC America, and I was expecting this to be set in London.

Imagine how surprised I was to hear another train announcement – Next train to New York City …! So much for being in Blighty, unless they’ve built a cross Atlantic railroad tunnel that escaped being noticed by yours truly. So as the show continued with many more surprises and shocking twists, by midpoint of the 1st episode, I’m still at a loss as to where the show is set. Which lasted until I was able to read a few license plates which read Ontario. Further research tells me that this show is a joint effort between BBC America and Temple Street Productions which is surprise, surprise – a Toronto outfit.

To give you a quick précis (lifted from the Orphan Black page on IMDB) – A streetwise hustler is pulled into a compelling conspiracy after witnessing the suicide of a girl who looks just like her. So our lead character is one Sarah Manning. She’s played by the aforementioned Tatiana Maslany. In case you’ve no idea about who she is – she played supporting roles in Eastern Promises (2007) and The Vow (2012). She’s also appeared in a couple of episodes of the Parks and Recreation TV series.

Anyway, Sarah is on the lam from some bad people. And when she gets an opportunity to assume another’s identity – she takes it. Only to find – that the assumed identity is also in deep doo-doo. While it is safe to describe her new identity as not quite in dire straits – there are problems.

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Annika Bengtzon – Crime Reporter (2012)

How do these sound to you –

– A murder at the prestigious Stockholm, Sweden event known as the Nobel Prize Banquet?
Does that intrigue you? Have a look at the trailer:

– A super popular TV Talk show host is found murdered in a TV Production truck while on location?
– A girl is raped and murdered, and that’s only on the surface. Beneath the surface, a high government official is trading arms to the Taliban.

Such are the plot lines of the first three episodes of Annika Bengtzon, Crime Reporter. This six part series was originally broadcast on Swedish TV in 2012. Adapted from the best-selling novels penned by Liza Marklund, the series is available on DVD from Amazon, or you can stream it via Netflix.

The lead character is of course Annika Bengtzon, a crime reporter for a Stockholm paper called Kvãllspressen. She’s a thirty something with two kids and a hubby.

Yes she has a female reporter as a colleague,

a gruff city editor who has a big beer gut, wears suspenders and no tie, and a neat as a pin Editor-in-Chief. There’s a police detective who happens by in every case. Sometimes he’s an opponent and sometimes he’s an ally. It varies from week to week.

The police detective

The police detective

The husband is kind of stereotypical shell of a character meaning  disregarding gender, we get the type of spouse we’ve all seen before – the type that isn’t happy the other spouse is out until all hours – even all night – just to get the story.

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Borgen – TV Series

Way back in 1952, American actor Danny Kaye starred as famed Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen. This Hollywood production of a film was entitled Hans Christian Andersen. In the course of the film, Kaye sang a memorable song about the Danish capital, Copenhagen. Please have a quick peek at the lyrics –

On this merry night
Let us clink and drink one down
To wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Salty old queen of the sea
Once I sailed away
But I’m home today
Singing Copenhagen, wonderful, wonderful
Copenhagen for me

That was 62 years ago. Even further back, in fact, sometime between 1599 and 1602 William Shakespeare penned Hamlet. In “Hamlet.” Act I, Scene 4: Marcellus (an officer) says “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” having just seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the late king of Denmark.The phrase means “things are unsatisfactory; there is something wrong.” Now let’s move forward to the present where something is still rotten in Denmark.

From the high-wire act called statesmanship or diplomacy on the national and international stages, to the day-to-day management of  the country where scandals, swindles, and dirty tricks are almost the norms rather than the exceptions, to the both feet on the ground, daily activities of what is called domestic relationships or married life – the life of a head of state involves hundreds of decisions, both big and small, every day.

There are back-room deals with the heads of political parties for funding, staffing, and even Cabinet seats. The Prime Minister must offer public handshakes and accord for the record with those who are privately detested, and she must be wary of backstabbing, and more, and that’s just for starters. While there can be and often is mutual back-scratching, the Prime Minister cannot have friends in the Christiansborg Palace (the seat of the Danish government – the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches are all in the one building), while in office. Because sometimes, heads must roll.

That’s politics, irrespective of country. For this show, and to get you located, the series is set in a number of places like The Prime Minster’s office, television studios, and in personal homes – Denmark simply does not have a White House. Then think of everything you loved about NBC’s The West Wing, HBO’s The Newsroom, and, Netflix’s House of Cards. Speaking of House of Cards, didn’t Frank Underwood once say – The price of power is loneliness.

Okay, now check out the trailer to have a look at what I am talking about.

I am talking about the critically acclaimed award-winning Danish TV series called Borgen. Borgen ran for three full seasons from 2010 into 2013. The show conquered everything that it came up against, not only in Denmark, where the series is based, but it was also wildly successful when it was broadcast on the BBC in the UK. It is a series about Denmark’s first female head-of-state Birgitte Nyborg . Sidse Babett Knudsen (below) stars as Nyborg and is simply fantastic as a woman who tries to juggle running a country and maintaining her family ( a husband and two children) simultaneously.

As the 1st episode of Season One begins we learn a bit about the Danish political system. In the Danish parliamentary system, eight political parties align in various, and sometimes unexpected ways to form coalition governments. In the first episode, through various political missteps, the largest liberal and conservative parties rough each other up, giving Birgitte Nyborg’s Moderates a huge boost and herself the unexpected opportunity to head up a liberal coalition as prime minister. Basically with the liberals and the conservative Labor parties each shooting themselves in the foot, or simply imploding, Nyborg is voted into power. However, as a part of forming a Cabinet, the unseen Queen must appoint The Prime Minster as The Royal Investigator. This means she gets to pick her Cabinet officers – and won’t that be fun.

As I said she’s also a happily married woman with two kids. To make the show not only believable but also make the characters realistic, we watch the head of state at home dealing with the issues there. But she, Birgitte Nyborg is only the lead character. The rest of the cast, will likely be mostly unknown to you but they’re superb. So let’s have a look at the main players:

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New Series on A&E – Those Who Kill

With HBO’s True Detective ending this Sunday, you’re going to have a gap in your detectives and murders programming. Therefore, you can all give the new series on A&E a try. It’s called Those Who Kill. Yes, it is another show with a female detective, and another show with a quirky profiler as her partner. There will be 10 episodes and that should take us into Mid May. Just what we need at the moment.That’s the good news.

Unfortunately there is bad news too. The show will air on Monday nights at 10:00 PM. Yes, that is the same time as The Blacklist. But this Monday, The Blacklist will not air. So you might want to consider checking this out.

Unlike True Detective, or The Killing, or The Following – this series will be in the old style format of a new case each week. Those Who Kill will be like the aforementioned Blacklist, which also has a new case each episode, along with recurring story lines involving the characters.

Chloë Sevigny stars as Catherine Jensen, a new homicide detective in Pittsburgh, PA. Her co-star is James D’Arcy as Thomas Schaeffer, the profiler or forensic psychologist. Together they will work to solve the cases. But, I guess you already knew that.

Among the supporting players will be James Morrison, Michael Rispoli, Kathy Baker, and Bruce Davison.

Background/backstory – Detective Catherine Jensen comes with a history, and don’t we all, which is going to intrude into the present. No need to alert the media about that as that is the norm these days.

All we know about her at the moment, that is after the first episode, is that she broods a lot, likes a glass of wine while standing on her balcony overlooking the Pittsburgh skyline, and she has a violent streak to her. She is also the daughter of a Judge (Bruce Davison) and she has a brother who has went missing years ago. One last salient fact, she tells us that she knows what it is like to be locked in a dark and terrifying place. Not only is that a very strong omen, but, again sorry about the repeating the ‘news gambit’ – that is most of the good news.

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Welcome to the Punch – 2013

Coppers and crooks in Blighty is the Five-Word-Description.

Check out the trailer:

Padding that out a bit, Welcome to the Punch is a 2013 British film involving a couple of decent but not too bright detectives, a career criminal with a decent heart, and of course police bosses who stand on unsteady moral grounds. Most of the action takes place in London, with a brief sojourn out to the wilds of Iceland for a shootout in the woods.

Not that it is a London that we know and recognize. This London is all steel and glass skyscrapers. There’s not even a hint of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, or Piccadilly Square. Nary a classic London taxi in sight. What’s more we don’t even get to see even one instance of a version of the London Bobby kind of uniformed policeman that we grew up with in the filmi sense of the words, on this side of the pond. In case you were wondering – The Punch refers to an area that is located in London’s new and glittery Canary Wharf neighborhood.

The film has Ridley Scott listed as Executive Producer. The Director credit goes to Eran Creevey, and this is his second effort as director.

As for the cast – there’s James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class – 2011 and Wanted – 2008),

Mark Strong (most recently seen on American TV in Low Winter Sun – 2013 and Zero Dark Thirty – 2012),

and Andrea Riseborough who starred opposite Tom Cruise in Oblivion (2013).

Also on hand was Peter Mullan who was in the excellent TV series Top of the Lake. So this is a cast that looked good on paper.

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The Oscars – Just Sayin’

Honestly – I would like to see Billy Crystal return to hosting the Oscars next year. Ellen DeGeneres was funny, as in cruel funny in her opening monologue, but after that – cruising the aisles, glad handing & well wishing those she located in that particular aisle was just a harbinger of something missing. I will circle back to that. Read on.

Three separate times we returned to the audience aisles and that was just about the pizza.

1) asking who is hungry and who wants pizza
2) delivering the pizza
3) collecting the money for the pizza –

And how many times did we get some moments about the selfies?

Please. I’d prefer someone who’d crack-wise and be nimble on their feet when it came to funny, sharp, and immediate reactions.

Long time Oscar host Bob Hope once said – I see a lot of new faces here tonight. And some of those new faces are on the old faces.

Bob Hope also said – At the Academy Award Dinners all the actors and actresses in Hollywood gather around to see what someone else thinks about their acting besides their press agent.

Hugh Jackman said: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, ladies and gentlemen. I don’t actually have a joke for them, I’m just contractually obligated to mention their names five times during the show.

Steve Martin (2001) – Hosting is like making love to a beautiful woman… it’s something I only get to do when Billy Crystal is out of town.

Billy Crystal (2004) – Best picture was Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – It’s now official. There is no one left to thank in New Zealand.

Jon StewartCapote’ of course addressed similar themes to ‘Good Night, and Good Luck.’: both films are about determined journalists defying obstacles in a relentless pursuit of the truth. Needless to say, both are period pieces.

Of course, Ellen did get off some funny lines – excluding the comments she made about Liza Minelli.

Ellen said – (About actors and actresses) We all know that the most important thing is love and family, and if they don’t have those things, they get into show business.

Ellen also said: For those around the world, it has been a tough couple of days here — it’s raining. We’re fine, thank you for your prayers.

This year’s Oscars went pretty much as expected. No real surprises.

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3 Days to Kill

Who doesn’t love Paris? So said Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) as she worked out the details of what she wanted from Ethan Renner (a starring role for Kevin Costner), a veteran CIA operative in the new film 3 Days to Kill.

Nice thought but the film actually opens in the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, before switching to a hotel in Belgrade.

Agent Vivian Delay has been ordered to capture the international arms dealer code-named Wolf who will be selling a suitcase dirty bomb to the Syrians. Delay and company will be led (hopefully to the Wolf) by capturing his associate called The Albino.

There’s a nasty shootout and an even nastier decapitation, but Wolf and The Albino do get away. Ethan Renner wounded The Albino, but it is painfully obvious that he’s not long for the world, nor has he much value when forced to chase some one on foot.

Vivi, now sporting a blond wig and sexy clothes, makes contact with Renner at a Paris street market. Since Renner has been working around the world, he has never met Delay. So he blows off her pick up line – I’m not interested – but she gets his attention because she has his watch, an engraved watch, a gift from his wife, that Renner lost in the Belgrade activity.

Now that got his attention, and mine too, because in Langley, Vivi/Vivian was a mousey, plain Jane. What she wants from Renner is a last kill. But Renner, who was not only tired of his job (CIA field agents do burn out) but he also been diagnosed with an inoperable and lethal brain cancer which has spread to his lungs.

His doctor says: Three months, maybe five.
Renner: So, no Christmas for me this year?
Doctor: I’m afraid not.

Vivi offered an experimental drug delivered via a nasty looking syringe, and a large amount of dollars. So Renner agrees, I mean what choice does he have. But it does make him feel better. The downside is that it also brings a loss of equilibrium and some hallucinogenic effects.

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