The Democratic National Convention sure knows how to put on a good show. Following Michelle Obama's career-launching speech on Tuesday night, Former President Bill Clinton proved his aptitude in the trade of improv, going off script to deliver a 50 minute-long diatribe on behalf of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
Clinton's off-the-cuff speech wowed attendees of the DNC, and earned the former pres his spot on the Twitter's top trending topics list Thursday. It isn't just anybody who can make the spouting of facts about Medicaid feel like Showtime at the Apollo, but Clinton managed to land himself duly among the ranks of some of the greatest pieces of improv in pop culture history. So what other figures in Hollywood history have wowed the world with well-timed quick thinking? Clinton's in good company...
Harrison Ford in The Empire Strikes Back
At the very end of the second original Star Wars movie, you may recall Han's heartbreaking goodbye to Princess Leia as he is doomed to the fate of carbonite imprisonment. The script called for Han to respond to Leia's profession of love with the standard, "I love you too." But Ford didn't feel as though this was in character for Han, and dealt the unforgettable, "I know."
Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver
One of the most quoted scenes in cinematic history came from actor De Niro himself on the set of Martin Scorsese's classic Taxi Driver, thanks to a relationship between the director and his star that bred creativity.
Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs
You know that hissing sound Hannibal Lecter is so famous for making? That was all Hopkins.
Bill Murray in Caddyshack
In this case, it wasn't just a line or a few odd phrases that were improvised, but an entire scene. The comic grandmaster Murray invented his much beloved "It's in the hole!" scene all on his own for his pal Harold Ramis' comedy classic Caddyshack.
Jack Nicholson in The Shining
It's not surprising that one of the creepiest, most hair-raising moments in the definitively spooky The Shining came from the mind of the manic Nicholson himself. When dull boy Jack Torrance sets out on a violent prowl for his frightened wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), he spouts the unforgettable catchphrase, "Heeere's Johnny!" And we never watched The Tonight Show in peace again.
Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
Perhaps the most memorable example on this list comes from the great Humphrey Bogart, who topped off the unforgettable ending to Casablanca with a line that would make even the toughest viewer well up a bit. When Bogart's Rick bids his final farewell to Ingrid Bergman's Isla, that tear-inducing line came straight from the mind of the actor himself: "Here's lookin' at you, kid."
[Photo Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo]
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It isn’t until later on in The Departed that you realize how important and well-crafted its beginning is: Two Bostonians Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) nearly cross paths when they’re interviewed in succession by Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) and Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen). Costigan is chosen to infiltrate the mob in order to get to Boston’s most feared boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) and he’ll have to put in some time in the slammer and on the streets before gaining a shred of cred; meanwhile Sullivan clean-cut and articulate is pulling the ultimate job for Costello by infiltrating the state police department and alerting the mob boss of their every move. As the two moles become more involved in their undercover operations the groups they’re infiltrating begin to smell something fishy. And so commences the chess match between Costigan and Sullivan to reveal each other before their respective pseudo-colleagues do. For any actor who truly enjoys the art of his job more so than the sexy periphery of it all something as collaborative as The Departed must seem like the proverbial “candy store.” Maybe that explains why DiCaprio Damon Nicholson and Wahlberg all signed up instead of carrying their own separate blockbusters for likely a much bigger payday. DiCaprio and Damon do what they do in every movie: give their best performances to date. Each plays completely against type flaunting the fact that genuine movie superstardom isn’t born out of good looks alone. For Nicholson his career nearing the half-century mark it’s no longer easy to qualify and rank his performances but Costello is one of his high points in a career pretty much devoid of anything but. As likely the lone Oscar contender (amongst the cast) Nicholson is equal parts monstrous and wry--or better yet equal parts Jack Torrance and The Joker. Wahlberg steals the funniest lines especially with his inborn Boston accent but Sheen often catches them before they’re allowed too much laughter. It doesn’t end there though: Alec Baldwin (as a fellow officer) soon-to-be breakout star Vera Farmiga (as a police shrink who ends up playing a central role) Ray Winstone (as Costello’s right-hand man) and Anthony Anderson (as a young cop familiar with both Costigan and Sullivan) all shine. Unprecedented chemistry amongst an unprecedented cast is as much a theme here as revenge! It is a privilege to watch a legend who is still so relevant: Martin Scorsese. The iconic director is responsible for some of film’s all-time masterpieces (Taxi Driver Raging Bull Goodfellas) but perhaps never has he seemed so vigorous. The Departed is a return to form for him in its vulgarity and casual-as-waking-up violence--the man makes exploding brain bits look like masterful spin art but somehow never gratuitous; however the film is not a return to straight-ahead mob flicks which would be a copout. His mere aura commands actors’ best-ever performances and does he ever get them here. But it’s Scorsese’s party thanks to his trademark grit and urban storytelling for no one makes the bad look so damn good! His prowess is indubitable but it’s hard to imagine him doing it without a superb script rewrite of Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs from Boston’s own William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven). His story is not flawless all the time--for one thing Farmiga’s character is the story’s thinly veiled crutch--and it could be argued that the gunshots are exploitatively deafening but this is no time to nitpick. It’s time to sit back feel tense and enjoy the show!