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Wednesday, July 13, 2022

In Memoriam: James Caan

Written by Jon Williams

The film industry lost an incredible actor and a unique, larger-than-life personality last week with the passing of James Caan. He was 82.

Born in the Bronx in 1940, Caan was determined to avoid working as a butcher like his father. He went to Michigan State University with hopes of playing football but moved on to Hofstra University when those dreams fell through. It was at Hofstra that he met Francis Ford Coppola and developed an interest in acting. In the early 1960s he started turning that interest into a career, first with some stage work and then with a series of small television roles. His first significant film role was opposite Olivia de Havilland in 1964’s Lady in a Cage, and his part in 1965’s The Glory Guys earned a Golden Globe nomination for New Star of the Year. He landed his first starring role in the racing film Red Line 7000 for director Howard Hawks in 1965. He followed that up with another Hawks film, the Western El Dorado, which also starred John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Ed Asner. He worked with Robert Altman in the 1967 space thriller Countdown, and with his friend Francis Ford Coppola for the first time in 1969’s The Rain People.

Many of his films in the ‘60s struggled at the box office, but Caan’s status was about to skyrocket. The 1970s started with the starring role in Rabbit, Run, an adaptation of the John Updike novel. In 1971 he played dying football player Brian Piccolo in the TV movie Brian’s Song, earning an Emmy Award nomination (as did costar Billy Dee Williams). Then in 1972 came the role with which he would forever be associated, mobster Sonny Corleone, in Coppola’s The Godfather, widely regarded as one of the best films of all time. Playing the short-tempered and violent Sonny, the oldest son and heir apparent to Don Vito Corleone, earned Caan nominations for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. He reprised the role in a cameo appearance for The Godfather: Part II in 1974. Other notable performances in the ‘70s include The Gambler, Funny Lady, Rollerball, and A Bridge Too Far, to name a few.

The ’80s started strong for Caan. In 1980 his passion project, Hide in Plain Sight, was released, the only film he directed. Next came the stylish crime thriller Thief, the directorial debut of Michael Mann. Soon thereafter, though, a series of personal issues forced Caan from the limelight. Thinking he was done acting, he paused his career for several years. He did return, though, starting with another Coppola flick, Gardens of Stone, in 1987. He dipped his toe into sci-fi with 1988’s Alien Nation, which spawned a separate TV series. He then completed his comeback with another iconic role, playing injured and stranded author Paul Sheldon against Kathy Bates’s sadistic nurse and “number one fan” Annie Wilkes in the adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery.

From then until his passing, Caan worked steadily, appearing in roles both large and small across all genres. He did straight drama (The Program), crime drama (The Yards, The Way of the Gun), and comedy (Mickey Blue Eyes, Get Smart). He appeared in Wes Anderson’s debut film, Bottle Rocket, and Lars von Trier’s avant garde ensemble drama Dogville. He starred in the modern Christmas classic Elf. He did voice work for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and its sequel, as well as for the anime film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and even voiced himself in cameos for both The Simpsons and Family Guy. He also had TV roles in the shows Las Vegas, Magic City, and Back in the Game. Caan’s final movie role was as an aging mob boss in the crime drama Fast Charlie, which will release in 2023.

James Caan leaves behind an extensive body of work that fans old and new will want to explore for years to come. Click on the links above, or SmartBrowse his name on our website to find all his movies we have available on DVD and Blu-ray. Patrons can also find a selection of his films available digitally on hoopla.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Bruce Willis Retires from Acting

Written by Jon Williams

Recently, representatives and family members of Bruce Willis announced that he was stepping away from his acting career. The popular action hero has been diagnosed with aphasia, a condition that affects a person’s ability to communicate.

Willis has long been known as a movie star, but he got his start in television. In 1984 and 1985 he appeared in first-season episodes of Miami Vice and the revival of The Twilight Zone. His big break came later in 1985 when he landed the role of private investigator David Addison on Moonlighting. For four seasons he starred alongside Cybill Shepherd on this hit show, winning both a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for Best Actor along the way. (He later won another Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor for his three episodes of the sixth season of Friends.)

During this time, he took his first steps toward the big-screen fame that would define him. His first starring role came opposite Kim Basinger in 1987’s Blind Date. Then, in 1988, his career launched into the stratosphere with the definitive action blockbuster Die Hard. Detective John McClane would become Willis’s most iconic character, a role he would reprise for four sequels, and cement his reputation as an action star. He would put those chops to work in movies like The Last Boy Scout, Red, The Expendables 2, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and so many more.

But while he was best known for action flicks, it was never his only trick. His comedy chops were apparent from early voice roles in Look Who’s Talking and Look Who’s Talking Too, and continued in movies like Death Becomes Her, The Whole Nine Yards, and Cop Out. He took on sci-fi with 12 Monkeys, The Fifth Element, Armageddon, and Looper. And that’s in addition to blockbusters and favorites like Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, Sin City, and Moonrise Kingdom, to name just a few.

So while he may be leaving the spotlight, all of these memorable TV and film roles ensure that Bruce Willis will be celebrated for a long time to come. Make sure you have his work on your shelves for patrons to discover or revisit. SmartBrowse his name on our website to find everything we have available.

Friday, March 25, 2022

King, Chizmar Wrap Up Gwendy Trilogy

Written by Jon Williams

A new novel from Stephen King is on its way. Fairy Tale, due out September 6, promises a tale of dark fantasy, and will be King’s first solo novel since last year’s Billy Summers. But those constant readers (or listeners) looking for something else set in the land of King’s fertile imagination need look only for a recent collaborative release flying somewhat under the radar.

Released in February, Gwendy’s Final Task, written with Richard Chizmar, concludes the tale that began with Gwendy’s Button Box, released in 2017. Set in King’s famous fictional town of Castle Rock, it details the series of events that ensue when young Gwendy Peterson is approached by a mysterious stranger and entrusted with a powerful magical device.

While King collaborated with Richard Chizmar for the first and third installment in the saga, the second, 2019’s Gwendy’s Magic Feather, was written solely by Chizmar. Well known in horror circles as the publisher of Cemetery Dance magazine, he has also edited and contributed to a number of horror anthologies. In 2021, he released the well-received fictional “true crime” novel Chasing the Boogeyman.

King, of course, is no stranger to collaborations. His first was 1984’s The Talisman, written with fellow horror author Peter Straub. They teamed up again for a sequel, Black House, in 2001. He has also written with each of his sons. He and Joe Hill got together for the novellas Throttle, an homage to Richard Matheson, and In the Tall Grass, both published in Hill’s collection Full Throttle. And in 2017, King collaborated with his son Owen for the bestselling novel Sleeping Beauties.

And because longtime King fans will want to know: yes, the Gwendy books do have the connections to his other works that he loves to include. Stories set in Castle Rock include The Dead Zone, Cujo, The Body, The Dark Half, The Sun Dog, Needful Things, and Elevation, as well as numerous short stories found in Skeleton Crew, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. The Gwendy stories also tie into his magnum opus, the eight-volume Dark Tower series (which begins with The Gunslinger).

Even with these connections, it’s not necessary to read these stories in any particular order, so readers and listeners can feel free to jump in at any point. The stories on your shelves are sure to provide hours of entertainment for fans old and new—use the links above, or browse around on our website to find other novels and collections, available in physical formats and digitally on hoopla Flex.