Friday, August 22, 2014

BetteBack June 27, 1986: New York Times Reviews Ruthless People

New York Times
Ruthless People (1986)
FILM: ‘RUTHLESS PEOPLE,’ A COMEDY
By VINCENT CANBY
Published: June 27, 1986

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THE most irresistible thing about the characters in ”Ruthless People,” a conspicuously overconsuming, Beverly Hills update of O. Henry’s classic ”Ransom of Red Chief,” is that they all try with such earnestness to live up to their ruthless reputations.

However, they’re not only doggedly mean, deceitful and potentially murderous, they’re also inefficient, fainthearted and totally transparent. Yet they work without respite. If they devoted the same energies to the selling of cookies for the Girl Scouts of America, the G.S.A. could become the World Bank.

When first met, pint-sized Sam Stone (Danny DeVito), the Spandex miniskirt king, is having dinner in an elegant Los Angeles restaurant with Carol (Anita Morris), his tall, beautiful mistress, and planning the murder of his heiress-wife, Barbara (Bette Midler). Sam’s loathing of Barbara knows no bounds. He becomes positively poetic when he talks about her as ”that squeaky, corpulent broad. I even hate the way she licks stamps.”

Sam gets so excited about the murder he’s about to commit that he can’t wait to finish dinner. He rushes home with his bottle of chloroform (he’s going to drug her and toss the overweight body off a cliff), only to find that she’s been kidnapped. One of the delights of this mostly barren movie season is to see the pleasure that creeps over Sam Stone’s face as he listens to the kidnappers’ telephoned instructions.

They demand half a million dollars in ransom and promise that Barbara will be tortured and murdered if the money isn’t paid, as directed, and if the police are called in. Hoping for the worst, Sam immediately brings in the cops and every television reporter in Southern California.

The object of all this attention is as horrible as Sam describes her. Miss Midler’s Barbara Stone enters ”Ruthless People” kicking, clawing and cursing, hidden inside the gunnysack in which she’s been carried off by her kidnappers to their modest, spic-and-span, lower-middle-class hideaway.

The perpetrators are Ken and Sandy Kessler (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater), a young, mousy, nonviolent couple who’ve been driven to this extreme action as a means of getting revenage on Sam, who stole Sandy’s Spandex miniskirt idea and became a multimillionaire.

I don’t want to oversell ”Ruthless People,” which opens today at the Beekman and other theaters. It’s the kind of movie that sounds a lot funnier than it sometimes plays. It has its arid patches.

It also has a uniformly splendid cast of comic actors – the best to be seen outside of any recent Blake Edwards movie. Its screenplay, by the newcomer Dale Launer, is packed with wonderfully vulgar, tasteless lines that perfectly reflect the sensibilities of Sam and Barbara Stone. (Says Sam at one point, when he should be grieving for his lost wife, ”Let’s face it – she’s not Mother Teresa. Gandhi would have strangled her.”) The direction, which can most accurately be defined as enthusiastic, is by the team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, who hit the target with ”Airplane!,” which they also wrote, and then missed with their follow-up, ”Top Secret.” Though ”Ruthless People” has few moments to equal the inspired lunacies of ”Airplane!” it’s a true farce -uniformly, cheerily nasty, without any of the sentimental baggage that freights ”Down and Out in Beverly Hills.”

I can’t say enough good things about Mr. DeVito, who here is never allowed to ”act cute,” which has sabotaged his work in ”Romancing the Stone” and ”Jewel of the Nile,” or about Miss Midler, who starts off looking like a nightmare parody of Pia Zadora and winds up being a svelte if loud-mouthed kitten. ”Do I understand this correctly?” she says on learning that her husband won’t even pay $10,000 for her return. ”I’ve been marked down? I’ve been kidnapped by K-Mart!”

Mr. Reinhold and Miss Slater (”Supergirl”) are almost as funny as the unlikely kidnappers who do their best to cater to the whims of their whimsical ”guest.” Also entering into the spirit of the film are Miss Morris and Bill Pullman, who plays ”the stupidest person on the face of the earth,” the handsome if eccentric-looking young man with whom Miss Morris is two-timing Sam Stone. William J. Schilling appears briefly, but memorably, as a distraught commissioner of the Los Angeles police.

Though unbilled, O. Henry lives on -in a time and a place and a vocabulary that would make him blush.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

BetteBack June 1986: Bette Is Superb In Ruthless People

Radio Times
Ruthless People
June 1986

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Airplane! partners Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker teamed up again for this fun comedy about a pair of bumbling kidnappers – Helen Slater and Judge Reinhold – who snatch wealthy Bette Midler and discover that her husband Danny DeVito doesn’t want her back. The movie twists and turns as a whole host of other people get involved (including Anita Morris as DeVito’s mistress and a young Bill Pullman as her mentally challenged lover). DeVito and Midler are superb in their roles as the greedy philanderer and his screaming, overbearing other half.

PLOT SUMMARY

Black comedy from the Airplane! team, starring Danny DeVito and Bette Midler. Wealthy businessman Sam Stone plans to murder his wife so he can marry his mistress. He thinks his problems are over when his wife is kidnapped by a young couple who threaten to kill her if their ransom demands are not met. But Sam’s life is about to get even more complicated.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Video: Tell Him by Don Bradshaw (For BetteHeads)

Bette recorded this song for her new album. Whether it makes the cut or not I don’t know. Anyway I just learnt the song this morning so I thought I’d share with you. No haters, Just players…lol

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"Find your Light; They can't love you if they can't see you" ~ Bette Midler

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BetteBack June 27, 1986: Bette Midler Is Priceless In Ruthless People

Philadelphia Inquirer
Film: Raunchy Fun In A Farce On Greed
By Desmond Ryan, Inquirer Movie Critic
POSTED: June 27, 1986

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The heiress has just learned from her kidnappers that her husband refuses to pay the ransom, even though they keep desperately reducing the figure. As the truth dawns upon her, Bette Midler takes on an expression that can only be described as sleazy hauteur, and bellows, “Marked down!”

Barbara Stone (Midler), the victim of this K mart kidnapping, is loud and obnoxious. And so is just about everyone else in Ruthless People, a movie that believes all human impulses originate below the belt and one that has a merry time proving it. When a comedy is as foul-mouthed and raunchy as Ruthless People, it helps if it’s also funny. And for most of its frenzied going, Ruthless People is a diverting and very shrewdly cast farce about bottomless greed.

Although it shares some thematic ground with John Huston‘s savage Prizzi’s Honor, Ruthless People does not aspire to the same level of sophistication and subtlety. Everything here is more superficial and aimed at the immediate laugh rather than laughter that surfaces from revelation of character. To that end, the directing triumvirate of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker – the team behind Airplane!. (1980) – has chosen stars who can get that laugh by their response to a predicament or a sudden change of fortune.

Midler, most recently cast as another rich harpy in Down and Out in Beverly

Hills, has shown that she was born to this kind of role, and she seems to play it instinctively. But as the husband who is delighted to have her taken off his hands because he was planning to kill her anyway, Danny DeVito does his best work yet for the big screen. Perhaps it takes three directors to rein him in, but DeVito is restrained here and it makes a big difference. Too often in the past he has flailed away before the camera like a man under attack by a swarm of invisible bees.

To this welcome control, DeVito has added a really mean streak to his Sam Stone. Mix in the ever-understated acting of Judge Reinhold and character actors who take gleefully to juicy cameos and you have the makings of an undemanding but well-executed entertainment.

There are scorpions who have better relationships than Sam and Barbara Stone. Sam is a clothing tycoon living in a Bel-Air mansion filled with furnishings that are as vulgar as they are uncomfortable. At the outset, he is about to murder Barbara for her money so that he can enjoy his mistress in peace.

Although Ruthless People is strictly an amorality play, the only people with a shred of decency left in them are the kidnappers. Their lives are taken over by Barbara and her unceasing demands and the realization that they are stuck with her.

Readers of Elmore Leonard’s novel Switch will recognize the ingredients, and Dale Launer, a new screenwriter, has resorted to over-plotting in his approach to them. He presumably intends to keep up the tempo to a degree that moves to the next situation and reaction just as the previous one has sunk in. But the pace may have more to do with the three directors, who brought this machine-gun style to Airplane!

In fact, the funniest moments in Ruthless People come from the points where the stars find some room – usually little more than a crevice – to act rather than react. That’s nearly always the case in good comedy. But Ruthless People deals in the easier kind of humor that makes audiences laugh more instead of think harder. On those terms, it’s a winner. Midler may be marked down faster than a sun dress at the end of the summer, but her contribution to Ruthless People is priceless.

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"Find your Light; They can't love you if they can't see you" ~ Bette Midler

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Streisand, Chenoweth and Midler Concert Director Shares All Aug. 20 at 7 AM and Aug. 21 at 9 PM

Playbill
Streisand, Chenoweth and Midler Concert Director Shares All Aug. 20 at 7 AM and Aug. 21 at 9 PM
By Blake Ross
16 Aug 2014

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Sirius XM‘s On Broadway channel debuts a new interview Aug. 16 as part of the “Broadway Names With Julie James“ series – featuring Richard Jay-Alexander, longtime concert director to Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand and Lea Salonga, among many others.

Advertisement

Jay-Alexander sits down with James for a no-holds-barred interview about his career, including working with iconic divas and being on the ground floor with some of Broadway’s longest-running hits.

During the 75-minute chat, the pair talk about all aspects of the entertainment industry as well as Jay-Alexander’s roots in Syracuse, his decade-long tenure as executive director of the New York office of Cameron Mackintosh, where he helped develop musicals like Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, his years-long partnership creating stage shows and albums with Bernadette Peters and Barbra Streisand, and more.

The “Broadway Names With Julie James” sit-down with Jay-Alexander premieres Aug. 16 at 8 PM, with repeat airings Aug. 17 at 12 PM, Aug. 20 at 7 AM and Aug. 21 at 9 PM.

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BetteBack June 27, 1986: LA Times Reviews Ruthless People

LA Times
Movie Review : Going Full Bore In ‘Ruthless’
June 27, 1986|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

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Comedy can intoxicate you, put you in a soft, rollicking mood. But it can also draw blood.

That’s what the people behind “Ruthless People” (citywide) are after. It’s pitched in the half-cynical vein of the comic muckraker. It tries to make sport of human vice, greed and corruption, some of the best comic subjects. The characters here aren’t just bad; most of them are truly vile–human slime. And the film makers chew them up (especially two nefarious bonbons played by Danny DeVito and Bette Midler) with the toothsome glee of jolly cannibals.

It’s about a kidnaping that goes awry. A hapless couple (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater)–angry because unscrupulous entrepreneur Sam Stone (DeVito) has swindled them out of her invention (spandex miniskirts)–heist Stone’s wife, Barbara (Midler), and demand a ransom for not killing her. Unfortunately, Stone wants nothing more than Barbara’s death. He has a mistress (who, in turn, has a moronic lover); he married Barbara for her father’s money, and the patriarch’s longevity has driven him crazy. On the verge of hiring hit men himself, the thought of a cut-rate demise fills him with slavering contentment.

The kidnapers’ incongruous kindness–pitched against their victim’s unbridled viciousness–is a Billy Wilder touch, sweetening the tone of hip malice. This pair, the Kesslers, are out of their depth as criminals. They’re an empathic, good-hearted couple with a daffy dragnet closing in on them. Almost everyone around them is brutal, half-insane or completely amoral. Barbara is a brassy harridan, a gauche grande dame, screeching for gourmet accommodations. Stone chuckles evilly to himself whenever he gets a new threat. And the police conduct a thoroughly corrupt investigation–with planted evidence and framed suspects–after the commissioner gets entangled in the inept blackmail schemes of Stone’s woman (Anita Morris).

There’s a shock in seeing this kind of material–with its heavy doses of sex, nudity, scatology, violence and calculated outrage–coming from the Disney Studio. It seems enough to send all seven dwarfs into cardiac arrest. But there’s a bigger shock: Much of it works. At its worst, “Ruthless People” is tasteless and over-broad. (Cracking jokes about a serial “bedroom killer” is a terrible idea; only a Lenny Bruce could bring it off.) But at its best, it’s hilarious.

Directors Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker (the three-headed team of “Airplane!”) fill the movie with comic vigor; they skewer their victims with panache. Dale Launer‘s scenario doesn’t have the free-associating, madcap, near-surrealistic bursts of their other films, but it’s structurally tighter and has more tension. The relish that Abrahams and the Zuckers used to put into their verbal gags and conceits here goes into the visual-dramatic side: the cunningly choreographed frenzy and Tex Avery-style punch and pace, the swift, lopped-off tracking shots through interiors that are alternately tawdry or over-bright and gaudy. (Modeled on Italian “Memphis School” decor and wonderfully shot by Jan DeBont, the Stone mansion looks like punk gone nouveau riche). And the performances are all boisterously embroidered.

Midler and DeVito are the kind of actors who can exhaust you, but here their energy level–which sometimes shrivels the actors around them–gets at the Stones’ semi-demonic core. She’s a great, yowling grotesque; he bristles with sleazeball malevolence. Along with Morris’ well-upholstered doxy, they’re creatures of sheer, ruthless appetite, living in a world beyond laws or pity. (He’s damned because his appetites are unchecked; perhaps she’s redeemed by her dieting.) And against the soft eyes and homey looks of Slater and Reinhold (his best work since “Beverly Hills Cop”), the Stones are a pair of barracudas with angelfish nibbling at their flanks.

So many comedy scriptwriters either do sub-”Saturday Night Live” satire or say they want to do a Capra-esque movie–then turn out the kind of blandly affirmative goo the young Capra would have snickered at–that it’s refreshing when someone tries to tap the trenchant, salty, no-bull vein of Hecht and MacArthur in “The Front Page” or “Nothing Sacred,” or of the best Billy Wilder.

But “Ruthless People” has a flaw: It isn’t ruthless enough. For a current movie, Launer’s plot-juggling is both unusual and deft, but in parts he eases up and slides into formula. The ending, especially, is a cheat: It may be the climax everyone expects, but that’s exactly what’s wrong with it. It’s too automatic, and it seems madly illogical, depending on unlikely bursts of brilliance and prowess from people who have previously shown themselves to be absolute dunderheads.

Yet so much of “Ruthless People” goes so far that maybe it was inevitable that the film makers would pull up short and make this half-sappy compromise–cynicism with a smile–as compensation for their previous audacity. A pity. A lot of the rest gives you something better: full-bore, shameless, gut-clutching laughter.

RUTHLESS PEOPLE‘ A Buena Vista release of a Touchstone Films presentation in association with Silver Screen Partners II. Producer Michael Peyser. Directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker. Script Dale Launer. Camera Jan DeBont. Editor Arthur Schmidt. Executive producers Richard Wagner, Joanna Lancaster, Walter Yetnikoff. Music Michel Colombier. Art director Donald Woodruff. Visual consultant Lilly Kilvert. With Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater, Anita Morris, Bill Pullman, William G. Schilling, Art Evans, Clarence Felder.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

BetteBack July 12, 1986: ‘Ruthless People:’ you’ll leave laughing

Madison Wisconsin State Journal
July 12, 1986

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Take a good, simple idea — the kidnaping of a nagging wife whose husband doesn’t want her back — and add some charismatic casting — Danny DeVito and Bette Midler — and it would take a cinematic clod to turn out a bad picture.

Fortunately, the talents behind the camera in “Ruthless People” — the unusual three-man directing team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker — are not clods.

They proved it with the Hellzapoppin comedy “Airplane,” and they prove it once again here with a more traditional narrative story.

In fact, one of the delights of the movie (playing at Hilldale and Eastgate) is that its script dares to complicate
what could have been a much more straightforward yarn.

In addition to the ruthless husband (DeVito) who wants to get rid of his wailing wife (Miss Midler), there’s also his voluptuous girlfriend (Anita Morris). She has her own private agenda while sleeping with the film’s funniest character, the dumbest hunk in Los Angeles (Bill Pullman), which makes him the dumbest man in the world.

And there’s more. The kidnapers are a nice young couple (Judge Reinhold from “Beverly Hills Cop” and Helen Slater from “Supergirl”) who kidnap Midler to get back at DeVito because he stole one of their clothing designs.

But they are such nice kidnapers that they keep lowering the ransom price in an effort to entice DeVito.

That eventually causes Miss Midler to scream one of the film’s best lines: “I’m being marked down.”

It’s always tempting in critiquing a comedy to steal the film’s gags and make the review funnier. But so many of the big laughs in “Ruthless People” are so ruthlessly foulmouthed, and yet good-naturedly funny, that you won’t read them here.

Instead, let’s take the time to acknowledge the talent of Danny DeVito,who at 5 feet tall may be the most unlikely leading man regularly working today. Throughout his fine performances in “Romancing the Stone,” “Wise Guys” and now “Ruthless People,” DeVito relies less and less on his size for comic effect and more on his facial expression. He’s an actor and not a freak.

His character of Sam Stone, a vulgar, wealthy, Bel Air dress manufacturer, is a hard-nosed classic, admitting in the film’s opening sequence that he married his wife because she was very, very rich and her wealthy father was very, very sick.

That may be ruthless, but it’s so honestly expressed that it’s funny. And that’s DeVito special talent. He expresses the rage that big and little guys feel, and his rage is both credible and yet obviously designed to entertain.

Miss Midler’s fans, and they are legion, may be disappointed that she doesn’t have a bigger role in the film. We want the film to be more of a duel between them, even if it means cutting back on the kidnapers, who are only mildly amusing. The film’s only other failing is its flat ending.

Otherwise, “Ruthless People” contains some of the biggest laughs of 1986. The film is rated R.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Video: Katey Sagal ~ Son Of A Preacherman

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"Find your Light; They can't love you if they can't see you" ~ Bette Midler

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Hollywood age issues

Den Of Geek
Elderly action heroes and Hollywood age issues
Feature James Clayton 15 Aug 2014 – 07:00

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The arrival of The Expendables 3 leads James to the conclusion that, when it comes to being an action hero, age is just a number…

“All I have produced before the age of 70 is not worth taking into account. At 73 I have learned a little… a little about the real structure of nature, of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes and insects. In consequence when I am 80, I shall have made still more progress. At 90 I shall penetrate the mystery of things; at 100 I shall certainly have reached a marvellous stage; and when I am 110, everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive.” – Hokusai, the Japanese artist who painted the famous ‘Great Wave off Kanagawa‘ and kept on creating astounding art until his death at the age of 88.

“I’m too old for this shit.” – Roger Murtaugh, the LAPD homicide detective played by Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon film series. There’s no update on Lethal Weapon 5 so maybe he’s decided that he really is too old for this shit now.

Age is just a number. You’re only as old as you feel. It’s never too late for [insert thing seen as the special preserve of the young here]. You’re a spring chicken, you don’t look a day over 35 and so many other reassuring clichés and aphorisms about age. Altogether, people get very bothered about being old and the idea of aging.

Time flies and its beating wings are merciless. When human beings have moments in which they perceive those pounding pinions and acknowledge the passage of time, they’re liable to fall into a state of anxiety. Movie stars are not immune and, in fact, might even feel the fear more severely by nature of the job they do. Media industries are notoriously superficial fields where image is ‘everything’, and the film industry is no exception. At a simplistic level, ‘old’ is a label that carries baggage and stigma. Youth, on the other hand, is prized and highly desirable.

It’s the reason why wicked witches the Sanderson Sisters (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker) are cooking up horrible Halloween schemes to suck the lifeforce out of the local kids in Hocus Pocus. It’s the reason why Ingrid Pitt’s Countess Elisabeth (aka Countess Dracula, based on the legend of Countess Báthory) is bathing in the blood of young virgins. The insecurity and envy of youth, likewise, drives the Queen to send a Huntsman after the heart of Snow White in every version of the fairytale once her magic mirror has taunted her with the truth that she ain’t fairest of them all anymore.

You’ll notice that all of the above examples from fiction are female. It’s definitely the case that women get an even rawer deal when it comes to the issue of aging, and that’s because we live in a society and culture in which everyday sexism thrives and which undermines and oppresses the feminine gender.

This is an essay on unisex aging, so I won’t get drawn into a feminist polemic or attempt to wrestle with gender politics too much. I will instead just leave you with a briefish reminder of the reality that, generally speaking, women are expected to aspire to certain ‘ideals’ of femininity and desirability upheld by and promoted by glossy magazines, soft-porn magazines, commercials and patriarchal traditions.

Woe to all women, then, who don’t conform to the design that identifies them as members of a submissive, inferior sex. Woe also to women who don’t meet the impossible standards of physical perfection of which youth is just one vital aspect if females are figured as sex objects.

Yes, it’s definitely not pleasant being a women actor in such pressurised, ideologically toxic conditions. Nonetheless, men aren’t completely immune from the popular gerontophobia – fear of old age – either, and you can get a sense of that at times if you take a hard look around the movie world. When noticeably aged actors are suddenly on the slate, film reviewers and message board threads start casually flinging around phrases like “dinosaurs”, “fossils”, “creaking bones” and “zimmer frame”. Some bright sparks may even riff on Roger Murtaugh’s “too old for this shit” catchphrase.

As for the industry itself, film producers mark performers’ increasing maturity by confining their range of roles to a set of restrictive archetypes. Actors may find that, upon reaching a certain age, the only parts being offered are for protagonists who are either packing a pipe and a pair of slippers or who are declining into decrepitude.

Putting myself in the position of a much older actor, I can imagine seeing nothing but mellow dotage fluff screenplays in the vein of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Last Vegas if they receive any screenplays at all. It’s a nightmarish vision, and you can easily come to appreciate why stars would start going through cosmetic surgery procedures, jumping on ridiculous fad diets or bathing in the blood of youthful virgins. You know that things are really bad and that the dread is really taking hold when a maturing actor starts murmuring about their wish to move into directing.

It’s a pretty depressing picture I’ve painted here, but it isn’t necessarily the reality of all thesps who find themselves on the other side of 50. In fact, if you look at the film industry from a different vantage point you realise that it may be that the movies are the best place for humans who are getting older.

Think about it and you come to see that actors can potentially keep on working until the day they die unlike their ‘regular’ peers who reach pension age and are promptly put out to pasture (or sentenced to the allotment, or the old folks’ home with Bubba Ho-Tep, or told that coming out of retirement for ‘one last job’ is only an available option for movie cops).

Shunning what’s considered to be ‘the way old fogies are’, they can have high times travelling the globe, enjoying new experiences and learning new skills (like swordfighting or martial arts) on the play-pretend trail if the parts demand it. As for cosmetic considerations, film crews will proactively de-age them with the world’s best hair and make-up, and digital effects if necessary. (Though, of course, this is very superficial thinking and in line with the anti-image-obsessed culture rant I’ve already had in this column, I’d like to celebrate being happy just the way you are.)

Age discrimination is present in Hollywood but I’d also say that there are powers challenging it – defying stereotypes and prejudices – and doing good work for those who aren’t quite spring chickens anymore. (Though I’ve never understood why anyone would want to be a spring chicken because spring chickens usually end up in sinister petting zoos or in a carton of McNuggets).

The Expendables franchise is a pertinent specimen to study, especially now that the third instalment of the series has just dropped into theatres with big weapons, big explosions and an even bigger main cast. The majority of that cast are action movie veterans and most are over fifty so the cumulative age tally is also very big.

Highlighting the hoariest of the heroes, Arnold Schwarzenegger (Trench Mauser) is 67, leader Sylvester Stallone (Barney Ross, “The Boss”) is 68 and newcomer (oldcomer?) Harrison Ford (Max Drummer) is 72. Regardless of the years and the mileage, though, all these golden oldies are still looking fresh, still in incredible shape, still having a blast (literally) and still making action movies just like back in the day.

Whether their recent work rates as highly, earns as much and resonates as strongly as the classics isn’t really relevant – the key thing is that these guys are still working hard and exerting a presence instead of fading into old age obscurity or dreary dotage as would probably be expected.

What’s more, when it comes to exalting seasoned screen figures, The Expendables series isn’t an isolated phenomenon. Glance over other franchises and you’ll find more grandfather-vintage gentlemen getting glory as elderly action heroes, like Patrick Stewart in the X-Men multiverse and his best mate Ian McKellen who has become the living manifestation of Magneto and Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s cinematic Middle Earth.

For further examples look to, say, Geoffrey Rush and Bill Nighy in the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies and the majority of an entire generation of ancient British acting nobility in the Harry Potter series. Sir Christopher Lee – 92-years-young and still making heavy metal records – is both Count Dooku of the Star Wars universe and Saruman of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.

By securing themselves a place in major multimedia franchises, these actors engrain themselves in contemporary pop cultural consciousness, thus ensuring that they both remain relevant and endear themselves to a whole new generation of young cinemagoers (who may even buy their action figure or Lego duplicate). The lucrative late-career path first followed by Sir Alec Guinness (as Ben Kenobi in Star Wars) is even more of a typical trajectory in this age dominated by super-franchises.

At this present moment, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the hottest party in town, and you can see how many ‘old’ heads are enjoying themselves by becoming a part of the mythos – Samuel L Jackson, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir Ben Kingsley and Robert Redford just a select few. Jenny Agutter’s surprise ass-kicking moment in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is also worth a shout out, and Michael Douglas (70 in September) will be getting in on the action next year as Dr Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man).

The Force is strong with these ones, in spite of the numbers on their birth certificate. Another Star Wars alumnus provides perhaps the most potent demonstration of how older stars can enjoy a later-career resurgence when they reconfigure themselves as an action hero and find fresh life in zesty genre films. Following his lightsabre-waving stint as Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace, the Mighty Liam Neeson went on to dabble in a little bit of gang fighting (Gangs Of New York), ninja fighting (Batman Begins) and crusader knight fighting (Kingdom Of Heaven) before carving a niche for himself as a cult bruiser whose name and reputation as a go-to action gruff is the core of so many recent action films.

He is the Unique Selling Point and main draw in flicks like Taken, Taken 2, Unknown and Non-Stop. Watch these films and your foremost thoughts will be a repeated mantra along the lines of “oh my, Liam Neeson is such a hard bad-ass”. You never dwell on the fact that the towering Irish icon is in his 60s, and I’m certain that it’ll be much the same in upcoming releases A Walk Among The Tombstones, Taken 3 and Run All Night.

I can still buy Harrison Ford as a lead action hero (who needs a new Indiana Jones?). Jackie Chan may have been around forever but I don’t honestly believe that the chopsocky legend is anywhere near the end of his shelf-life. The same is true for Arnie, Sly and Bruce Willis. There’s no reason why these icons can’t keep on fronting action flicks, and they needn’t be wry movies that really play up the old age angle either. I’m thinking here of movies like Grudge Match – Stallone and Robert De Niro spoofing their Rocky and Raging Bull prime – and the two RED (‘Retired Extremely Dangerous’) flicks which are all about geriatric special ops agents.

Aptly enough, The Expendables 3 has arrived on the same week as my birthday. (I celebrated by reading Adventure Time comics, so clearly I’m still young at heart) I’ve had those inevitable angsty moments about the swift passage of time but, on reflection, I observed that I’m still under half the age of many of the Expendables. They’re not doing so bad and have a lot of life left in ‘em, so perhaps our fears about growing older really are nothing more than a crock of shit.

I’m too young for this shit, and so are all actors as long as they’re alive and still have their talent and will to make motion pictures and play interesting parts. In line with Hokusai’s proactive attitude quoted at the beginning of this article, I’d urge those who find themselves at a mature age to keep on going, because there is no upper age limit in art and entertainment and excellence isn’t the soul preserve of the young. In fact, it’s probably more likely to be the opposite.

I hope that cinemagoers and studios see that. If not, we’re going to need to cast Sir Christopher Lee as Doctor Strange to hammer home the point. Hey, hold on kids, we might be on to something great here…

James Clayton is going to be an action movie star one day… maybe when he’s 73 and thus mature enough to handle the responsibility. You can visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

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BetteBack July 6, 1986: Ruthless People Full Of BellyLaughs

Paris News
July 6, 1986

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For anyone wondering if directors Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker just lucked out with Airplane! in 1980, their new film Ruthless People is a happy revelation.

No, it’s not the same series of zany gags spoofing a particular film genre. And it doesn’t boast all those great B actors from the 1950s.

But it is wonderfully and satisfyingly zany — and that alone makes it a winner in my book.

Showcasing a terrific cast, Ruthless People has its share of bad taste, including one scene in which Danny DeVito sets a Doberman on his wife’s poodle and another in which a call girl very much in action literally spills out of
a car window.

However, the film’s pace is so fast and the cast so consistently “on” that Ruthless People almost makes you forget some of the tastelessness. With this one, you can revel in the humor, especially when the characters become caught up in a kidnapping plot gone awry.

Sam Stone (DeVito) is an unhappy, pint-sized, thoroughly loathsome businessman who, having married his beefy, foul-talking, shrewish wife (Bette Midler) for her money, is ecstatic to discover she’s been kidnapped.

Not only does he refuse to pay the ransom, he does everything to irritate her young kidnappers ( J u d g e R e i n h o l d . Helen ‘ ‘Supergirl” Slater), themselves two nice people pushed to the limit — ironically, by Stone’s business tactics.

Along the way, a blackmail scheme is brought in, though even this goes awry when the chief of police thinks he’s the one being blackmailed. Other subplots include Stone’s attempts to shoot, poison and massacre his wife’s irksome pooch.

Don’t look for much character development in this flick, except for Midler’s character (and that’s strictly for plot purposes).

Reinhold is his usual compassionate, sensible self, and Helen Slater is downright touching as his weepy-eyed, imid, fellow kidnapper.

However, the spotlight really falls most of the time on DeVito, formerly of Taxi and Romancing the Stone and seen here at his most evil (“I guess I’m going to have to wait a while to get the straight romantic leads,” DeVito said prior to the film’s release).

Midler doesn’t have much to do in the flick until about halfway through, when her shackled, shrewish wife character overdoses on daytime weight loss shows. She has some funny moments, though she’s best when she gets loose and finally gets her hands on DeVito.

Along the way, there are plenty of the touches that distinguished Airplane!, particularly in terms of timing. All in all, Ruthless People is almost guaranteed to give you a hearty share of chuckles, if not outright bellylaughs.

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