Continuing our vampire theme for Halloween, we’re taking a look back at Van Helsing. Ever since the success of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Universal had been kicking around ideas for a movie about the vampire hunter. After numerous delays, they finally handed over the reigns to Stephen Sommers, the man who had recently reinvented The Mummy as an action-comedy. The studio was so certain that Sommers could duplicate his earlier success that they planned a TV series and theme park attractions to tie into what they expected to be a franchise. Instead, Van Helsing disappointed at the box office. Just this past summer, Universal took another bite at the apple with another remake of The Mummy which was intended to kick off their Dark Universe franchise. The future of that endeavor remains uncertain after the new Mummy disappointed domestically.
As headliners today, we feature directors who have in common that each of them was responsible for bringing a pre-MCU version of a Marvel superhero to the big screen.
Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee celebrates his 63rd today. After his service in the Taiwanese navy, he studied theater at the University of Illinois, and then earned a master’s in film at NYU, where one of his classmates was Spike Lee (no relation—but you knew that 😉 ). Although his master’s thesis film was highly praised, it took several years before he had the chance to direct. In 1990, he won a contest for screenplays sponsored by the Taiwanese government, and as a result was able to make the three films that are informally known as the “Father Knows Best” Trilogy.
In between the second and third of those films, Lee made his Hollywood debut in 1995, directing an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility which starred Emma Thompson. Later in the 1990s he returned to the US to make The Ice Storm and Ride With the Devil, both critical but not commercial successes. He capped the decade by making one of his most famous films, the wuxia action drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which won several Oscars, including Best Foreign Language Film, and was nominated for Best Picture.
Greg Kinnear came from humble beginnings as the host of the basic-cable clip show Talk Soup. It’s something of a minor miracle that he ever made it to the big screen much less threatened to become a movie star. Kinnear fell short of leading man status, but he has carved out a pretty impressive career with supporting roles and independent films. In the October 2002 issue of Movieline magazine, Kinnear discussed his upcoming biopic Auto Focus about the debauched life of “Hogan’s Heroes” star, Bob Crane.
We’re getting into the Halloween spirit here at Le Blog. This week, that included spending some time with the grim, grinning ghosts who populate Disney’s Haunted Mansion. First, Daffy Stardust took readers on a detailed tour of the classic theme park attraction. Then Kevthewriter asked why Disney’s big screen adaptation of the ride couldn’t scare up success at the box office. Finally, Daffy was back to examine some fan theories about the what exactly happens when theme park guests board their Doom Buggies. Just in case you were too busy picking up hitchhiking ghosts to keep up with everything, here is your weekly recap.
Fright Night is a weird little movie. It has some of the DNA of an 80’s teen sex comedy starting with a horny protagonist who can’t get laid. It’s also one of the scarier vampire movies of the decade with the kind of practical special effects you just don’t see any more. Mix in Roddy McDowall as a Vincent Price-ish horror actor turned late night TV show host and you have a sentimental tribute to classic monster movies. Fright Night rolls all of that up into a fun B-movie that still has a cult following more than three decades after its release.
Our headliners today, both renowned actresses, have in common that each had an older sister who was also a prominent actress. Catherine Deneuve was the younger sister of the tragically short-lived Françoise Dorléac (1942-1967), who was just emerging as an international star when she died, at only 25, in a car accident. Joan Fontaine was the younger sister of Olivia de Havilland, a headliner earlier this year when she celebrated her 101st birthday.
Catherine Deneuve is turning 74 today. She made her film debut in a small role when she was only 13, and began working regularly in French film in the early 1960s. Her breakthrough role was in Jacques Demy’s musical/romance The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in 1964. She had a big year in 1967. She and her sister starred with Gene Kelly in another Jacques Demy musical, The Young Girls of Rochefort. And she received a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Actress for starring in Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour as a housewife who works as a call girl on the side.
I’m not sure that all of our readers know this, but Daffy Stardust is a true Renaissance man. His many talents are not just limited to blogging, touring theme parks and building puzzles. He’s also an accomplished thespian. Four years ago, Sir Stardust shared his experience as a zombie in the low budget horror movie, Live Evil. You will be happy to know that just in time for the Halloween season, the movie which is billed as “Ghostbusters meets Dawn of the Dead as written by Rod Serling and Mel Brooks’ adopted child” is available for rental or purchase on Amazon. Before you rush to check it out, be sure to read Daffy’s behind-the-scenes story of how he became a movie zombie.
Source: How I Became A Movie Zombie…
Remember when the Twilight movies were major events? Neither does Kevthewriter.
Aaron Tveit is celebrating his 34th today. He was studying musical theater at Ithaca College when he had the opportunity to join the national tour of the musical Rent; he was cast in the small role of Steve while understudying both of the male lead roles, Roger and Mark. He has gone on to a notable musical theater career, making his Broadway debut as Link Larkin in Hairspray. He has subsequently appeared on Broadway as Fiyero in Wicked, as Gabe in the original cast of Next to Normal (receiving several acting awards), and as Frank Abagnale in Catch Me if You Can. He has also done a fair amount of off-Broadway and regional theater work, and starred in a Hollywood Bowl production of Rent as Roger Davies.
Tveit’s first major television role was the recurring character of Trip van der Bilt on Gossip Girl. He has been a regular on USA Network’s Graceland, and last year on the CBS summer series BrainDead. He made his feature film debut in 2008 in a small role in Ghost Town, and has had prominent roles in Big Sky and Undrafted. And he has brought his musical talents to the small and big screen. He starred as Danny Zuko on Fox’s Grease Live, and played Enjolras in the feature film adaptation of Les Misérables.
Wrapping up a week of grim grinning ghosts, we’re revisiting Daffy’s examination of some fan theories about Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Part of what makes the Mansion such an enduring ride is that it creates a specific setting filled with memorable characters. Lacking a defined narrative, guests are free to connect the dots in any way they see fit. And for decades, fans of the attraction have done exactly that. Daffy tackles burning questions like “Who is the Ghost Host?” and “Do riders survive their tour of the mansion?”
David Caruso was one of the great cautionary tales of television. If you leave a hit show too soon, you might end up like Caruso. Three years after leaving NYPD Blue, Caruso’s hoped-for movie career was washed up before it ever really started. When the actor was interviewed for the October 1997 issue of Movieline magazine, his reportedly out-of-control ego had been popped like a bubble. At the time, Caruso was hoping that a new TV show would help him get a foothold in show business. It didn’t, but five years later he would bounce back with CSI: Miami.
Jerry Orbach (1935-2004) graduated from high school at sixteen, and studied at Northwestern, dropping out to study acting with Lee Strasberg, and to join the off-Broadway cast of The Threepenny Opera. Over the next 25 years or so Orbach had a terrific career in musical theater. He won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical as Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises (adapted from the movie The Apartment), and received three additional Tony nominations. Some of his better-known roles included El Gallo in The Fantasticks, Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, Jigger Craigin in Carousel, Billy Flynn in Chicago, and Julian Marsh in 42nd Street.
Orbach had begun a screen career as early as the fifties, but didn’t switch his focus to film and television work until the early eighties. He had prominent roles in films like Prince of the City, F/X, and Dirty Dancing, and in 1991 provided the singing and speaking voices of Lumière in Beauty and the Beast. A year later, he was cast in the role of Det. Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order. He received the third of his three Emmy nominations for the role, which he continued in until shortly before his death from cancer in 2004.
Among the many great rides and attractions in Orlando, E.T. Adventure is not well-regarded. Rumor has it that the only thing preventing E.T. from being replaced is the direct intervention of Steven Spielberg himself. The movie the ride is based on was very personal to him and he has been involved in the development and evolution of the E.T. Adventure. Putting that aside, Spielberg is right to protect this attraction because contrary to popular opinion it’s actually an important part of Universal’s line-up.