Character actor Dennis Farina, best known for his stint as Det. Joe Fontana on Law & Order, has died of a blood clot in his lung, the Los Angeles Times confirms. He was 69.
Though he had made a late-career shift into TV, Farina, born in 1943, had many memorable big screen roles in movies like Midnight Run, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Saving Private Ryan. Unlike so many actors, his tough-guy persona was no act. Farina, a Chicago native, originally patrolled the Windy City as a cop before catching the acting bug in his late 30s. That experience enabled him to bring a gruff, world-weariness to characters like Lt. Mike Torello on NBC's two-season cop drama Crime Story, which has become a cult favorite since its cancellation in 1988.
Crime Story was produced by Michael Mann, who had cast Farina in his movies Thief and Manhunter and would continue to be a frequent collaborator until the end: Farina's last role was as Dustin Hoffman's chauffeur and "muscle" on HBO's Luck in 2012, a show co-created by Mann.
But it's his work on Law & Order that gained him a whole new following. In 2004, following the death of Jerry Orbach, who'd played the iconic character Lenny Briscoe for over a decade, Law & Order was in jeopardy of coming to a screeching halt. Farina stepped in and, though he couldn't match Orbach's sense of streetwise intellectualism, opting for instead a more bullish, hard-charging approach, arguably saved the show. Just check out his naturalistic, unfussy style in this scene from Law & Order:
Farina is survived by three sons, six grandchildren, and his wife of 35 years, Marianne Cahill.
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Forget that the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's sweeping romance novel comes from the man who brought us the slick-but-stuffy Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Every frame of director Joe Wright's Anna Karenina is a wonder to behold overflowing with visual spectacle and roaring performances. Keira Knightley Jude Law Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the rest of the cast fit perfectly in the high drama epic but it's really Wright's playground. Following Hanna an artful spin on the action movie Wright returns to the period drama but injects it with dazzling daring choices. A book like Anna Karenina could once fit in reality but its larger-than-life legacy precedes it. Wright acknowledges that from frame one approaching the film like a grand ballet or opera where grand gestures broad emotions and overt theatrics are commonplace. That vision clicks transforming Anna Karenina into an exhilarating moviegoing experience.
The storyline of Anna Karenina isn't far off from a daytime soap: It's 1874 and Anna (Knightley) is floating through existence as the wife of influential government player Karenin (Law). But when her brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) summons her to Moscow to save his marriage Anna's entire world is shaken up. She meets Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson) a cavalry hunk who finds himself smitten with the taken lady. She's in the same boat: The two strike up a flirtatious relationship that evolves into one of sexual passion. A scandalous affair would incite trouble in the preset day but in the 19th century it's the ultimate crime. Quickly Anna's life comes crumbling down.
The intertwining melodrama of Anna Karenina earned the novel its classic status but Wright uses the material as a launching pad for imagination rather than a tome to translate to screen. Many of the scenes are staged in a theater creating an instant awareness of the production. Sets shift and are reconstructed into new rooms; actors costume change in the span of single shots; action sequences like a thrilling horse race are conducted on stage with special effects you might see on Broadway. Wright works this sort of stylization in the other direction too; a character could walk an empty stage open a door and suddenly be on a snow-covered hill. Anna Karenina isn't the first film to use the effect but in Wright's hands it's exhilarating.
The movie is Wright's third collaboration with Knightley and easily their most successful. Knightley never struggles to stay on the same page as the heightened material whether she's nailing a dance sequence or breaking down in a flood of tears. Casting an ensemble around Knightley is no easy task but Taylor-Johnson gives his best work yet as the debonair love interest and Macfadyen steals the show with moments of physical comedy.
We have expectations of the texture and structure of period romances. Anna Karenina defies them. Masterpiece Theater it is not.
Law and Order: Trial by Jury to continue without Orbach
Bosses of crime drama Law and Order: Trial By Jury have vowed to continue the hit show, despite the death of its star Jerry Orbach. The acting veteran, 69, died on Tuesday at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center during treatment for prostate cancer. The Emmy-nominated actor played Detective Lennie Briscoe in twelve seasons of the original Law and Order series, before leaving to star in spin-off drama Law And Order: Trial By Jury, which airs next year. NBC producers released a statement on Wednesday, saying, "The producers are deeply saddened. While Jerry is irreplaceable, Law and Order: Trial by Jury is an ensemble and will continue in production. A new member will join the company. Announcements will be forthcoming." Six episodes of the show have already been taped, with Orbach starring in half of them.
Jolie's new love
Movie beauty Angelina Jolie has found love with a millionaire Italian businessman. The Tomb Raider actress has been spotted with 29-year-old playboy yacht broker Daniele Patini--and source say the single star is smitten. A pal tells American magazine Us Weekly, "Daniele has dated many beautiful women, but this time he's admitted that Angelina has him entranced." Jolie has been single since splitting from second husband Billy Bob Thornton two years ago, but is reported to have had a number of flings, with first husband Jonny Lee Miller and Alexander co-stars Colin Farrell and Jared Leto.
Johansson denies fling with Del Toro
Stunning actress Scarlett Johansson has finally spoken out about her alleged fling with Benicio Del Toro--it never happened. The pair were reported to have enjoyed a steamy tryst in an elevator at Los Angeles' Chateau Marmont hotel after this year's Academy Awards, after the Lost In Translation beauty refused to deny the rumours. But she insists it was all a big mistake: "I went home alone that night to my mom's house, but nobody cares about that. It was so embarrassing. I felt horrible about the way that portrayed Benicio Del Toro."
Kidman: 'My salary is private'
Hollywood star Nicole Kidman has lashed out at the entertainment media for speculation about her salary. The Oscar-winning actress has been paid a wide range of wages for a mix of blockbuster and low-budget film roles, including a reported $17 million for Bewitched and $500,000 for the forthcoming movie Eucalyptus. Kidman says, "(Salary stories are) intrusive. Do you ask your neighbour what are they earning for their job? Why should have to put up with it?"
Smith accused of being a diva
Hollywood star Will Smith has been accused of acting the diva on vacation in Aspen, Colorado and using his famous name to get special treatment. The actor, who is spending the festive season at the ski resort with his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, their children and family friends, reportedly reserved a hotel lounge for their party--and then failed to turn up. A source says, "Dozens of guests were immediately uprooted and sat in less desirable corners."
Pryor loses voice
Multiple sclerosis has robbed tragic comedian Richard Pryor of his voice. The funnyman has been suffering the debilitating disease since 1986, but was forced to quit acting after appearing in 1997 movie Lost Highway. Now, on a US television appearance, his sister Jennifer has revealed Pryor, 64, can no longer speak. Jennifer also said the comedian--who appeared with her--tried to kill himself during a film stunt in 1981. Pryor was thought to have set himself on fire accidentally, but Jennifer said, "No, no, it was not an accident. I think Richard wanted to take his life."
Collins: 'I'm happy to be old'
Veteran actress Joan Collins is happy to be 71--because old people are better off than the young. The former Dynasty star insists the older generation have avoided the pitfalls of modern life--and are far more free to have fun than previous and future generations. She says, "I don't envy the youth of Britain today. The boozing and the drug-taking that a great many seem to indulge in, is going to cause premature ageing and all sorts of serious ailments in later life. We over-50s are lucky; the world is now free and full of possibilities for us, more than it was for our parents. If it's true that 50 is the new 30, then it follows that 70 is the new 50. And we are no all averse to doing the things thirtysomethings do--enjoying sex , loving fashion, having fun, decorating our homes, going on lavish holidays. The list is endless and we have the disposable income with which to do it."
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Although the film's title suggests there might be some deeply relevant British national allegory in the film post-colonialist comedy fans shouldn't get their hopes up. The plot of Johnny English such as it is goes something like this: The title character a bumbling junior-level spy (Rowan Atkinson) is suddenly thrust into active duty when every other agent in the British Secret Service is blown to smithereens during a bombing at a fellow agent's funeral. When the Crown Jewels are stolen it's up to English to discover the culprit and in the process he unearths a plot to replace the Queen of England with a French entrepreneur who has some pretty nasty real estate development plans for Merry Olde Blighty. It's a sorry excuse for a story sure but such paltry fare as plot character development and dialogue don't matter much when you connect the bits with U.K. fave Atkinson hamming it up in his trademark blundering way. And he really is funny in this movie--maybe not pee-your-pants funny but certainly hoot-out-loud funny. As with any spy spoof some of the shtick works and some doesn't but on the whole Atkinson and Co. do a good job in spite of the contrived script and pithy lines writers Neal Purvis Robert Wade and William Davies have pieced together for them.
If Cervantes' Don Quixote were a modern-day spy this would be his story. Atkinson tilts at Johnny English's windmills with the vigor and extravagance fans of the comedian's trademarked physical comedy have come to expect. Whether he's crashing a funeral pantomiming to ABBA in front of his bathroom mirror invading a hospital with guns blazing or getting his tie caught in a sushi bar conveyor belt Atkinson gives this movie's hackneyed scenes personality they probably wouldn't have had in any other actor's hands. Comedian and fellow Brit Ben Miller takes his first strokes across the pond as English's sidekick Bough playing Sancho Panza to Atkinson's Quixote to fairly good effect. The real "straight man" in this farce however is Natalie Imbruglia as love interest Lorna Campbell. The girl can't act her way out of a paper bag but when you look the way she does in leather pants and stilettos talent is beside the point. John Malkovich is underutilized as the villain Pascal Sauvage whose anti-English (that's the nation not the spy) sentiments have driven him to lay claim to the throne of England which he plans to use for nefarious purposes.
Based as it is on a character Atkinson created for a TV commercial for a major British credit card it's not surprising that the characters in Johnny English are far more entertaining when they're improvising 60-second physical comedy scenes than when they're attempting to further the so-called plot. What is surprising is that such pedigreed moviemakers as director Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors) production company Working Title Films (producers of Elizabeth Fargo and Billy Elliot) and producer Mark Huffam (The Hours) are attached to such a silly film. Then again everybody needs to let loose sometime; maybe this is their idea of a vacation.
Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) has it made. His screenwriting career is on the rise his first movie's just been made and he's got a cute girl. Life is good--until the House Un-American Activities Committee mistakenly fingers him as a Communist and he quickly falls from the A-list to the blacklist. Getting dumped by both his studio and his girl is nothing a little drinking can't remedy but after drowning his sorrows he nearly drowns himself when he decides to drive drunk and his car veers into the river knocking him unconscious. When Peter comes to he can't remember who he is or where he came from so he's taken in by the kindly people of Lawson a burg stuck in time and still mourning the loss of many of its sons in World War II. They mistake him for Luke Trimble one of their long-lost boys who went MIA in World War II and are overjoyed at his return. Luke's father Harry (Martin Landau) whose zest for life had dwindled so much that he let his beloved movie house The Majestic fall to ruin but with "Luke's" return he plans to reopen it. Celebrations abound. Peter-as-Luke even returns to his relationship with fiancée Adele (Laurie Holden). Meanwhile Peter may have forgotten who he was but the Feds haven't and they're on his tail.
When Carrey's given the right material like he was with The Truman Show he can exhibit moments of greatness. The Majestic doesn't give Carrey the leeway to show his quirky sensibilities demanding that he play it straight throughout the movie (there are a few--too few--glances at humor that Carrey doesn't play up). To bring off the kind of schmaltz this movie oozes Carrey had to bring something of an edge to his character. Instead Peter is neither likable nor unlikable coming off as a bland confused schmo until the climactic end which after two hours of his weak personality is wholly unbelievable. Landau is unexciting as a caricature of the sad sentimental old man without hope--you want to sympathize but there's something faintly chilly about him. Holden's liberated-woman lawyer might have played better in a contemporary movie; she looks and acts too much like a modern-day actress trying to portray a woman of the '50s.
Was this some kind of vanity project dreamed up by a director too taken with his own greatness and past success? Was Frank Darabont envisioning an It's a Wonderful Life for the next generation? (Psst…it's likely the majority of the modern moviegoing public doesn't know who Frank Capra is and could care less especially when the movie is as slow and as completely unbelievable as this one.) Apparently Darabont's in love with his own direction because hardly a moment goes by without some lingering reaction shot. Darabont took an intriguing story about amnesia and mistaken identity and slathered it with sap. Old-fashioned period stories can be lots of fun but it's imperative they be able to keep a present-day audience's interest by including a bit of modern wit and pace. Unfortunately this sticks to the straight-and-narrow. Nobody's going to buy the two-dimensional main characters the shiny happy townspeople or especially the schlocky my-country-'tis-of-thee finale. In its favor The Majestic's ultimate message is a nice one. The movie does have its heartfelt moments and its '50s feel is authentic if a little polished.