December 16: Happy Birthday Shane Black and Liv Ullmann


Shane Black, who turns 55 today, has credits as a producer, director and actor, but he is best known for his accomplishments as a writer.  His screenwriting credits include The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nice Guys.  But all of these have similarities, to varying degrees, to the first script he wrote, shortly after he graduated from UCLA—an action film, with a fair amount of comedy, and with a pair of protagonists who bond as “buddies” over the course of the movie:

With Lethal Weapon, Black didn’t personally invent the modern “buddy movie,” but he certainly laid out a lot of the standard elements of the genre.  Starting with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang he has moved into directing; he also directed Iron Man 3 and this year’s The Nice Guys.  He is currently working on The Predator, a “re-imagining” of the franchise as opposed to a reboot; a rather fitting assignment since one of Black’s most significant acting roles was as Hawkins in the original Predator.

Norwegian actress Liv Ullman, who celebrates her 78th birthday, is a Golden Globe winner and two-time Oscar nominee.  Ullmann may be recognizable to some for her appearances in American films like 40 Carats (which brought her a Golden Globe nomination) or the World War II film A Bridge Too Far.  She has moved into directing over her career; recently she directed Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell in an adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie.  But she is best known for her work with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman; known as one of Bergman’s “muses,” she made ten films with him, one of which paired her with another Swedish-born film legend:

Ullmann is playing the younger of the two women in this scene; I’ll let you all figure out who is playing the other (their characters are mother and daughter).

Krysten Ritter is 35 today.  She currently stars as the title character in Jessica Jones and will reprise the role in the upcoming The Defenders (opposite yesterday’s headliner Charlie Cox, among others).  She is also known for film roles in How to Make Love to a Woman, She’s Out of My League, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and others.  Theo James, who plays Tobias “Four” Eaton in the Divergent series, turns 32 today.  Anna Popplewell, who is celebrating her 28th, played Susan Pevensie in the Chronicles of Narnia films and more recently was a regular on the first three seasons of Reign.  Canadian actor Stephan James made his film debut in Home Again, and since then has played civil rights activist John Lewis in Selma and Olympic hero Jesse Owens in this year’s Race.  He turns 23 today.

Ten-time Emmy winner Steven Bochco turns 73 today.  Bochco first became known as the creator of the crime drama Hill Street Blues, which premiered in 1981.  He has gone on to create other crime-oriented dramas such as LA Law, NYPD Blue, and his current project, TNT’s Murder in the First.  He was one of the developers of many of the elements of modern television drama, such as story arcs spanning many episodes and large ensemble casts.  James Mangold, who turns 53 today, is best know as a feature film director and writer.  He made his debut directing the independent film Heavy in 1995; his subsequent credits include Cop Land, Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line, the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma, and The Wolverine.  His latest project is the final solo Wolverine film to star Hugh Jackman, Logan, which is due out in March.

Miranda Otto, who turns 49 today, is known for playing Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings films and for roles in What Lies Beneath and War of the WorldsBenjamin Bratt, who was an Emmy nominee as Rey Curtis on Law & Order, turns 53 today.  He recently appeared in Doctor Strange and is a regular on Fox’s StarBen Cross, who is 69, joined Liv Ullmann as part of the enormous cast of A Bridge Too Far and went on to star as Harold Abrahams in Chariots of FireJon Tenney, who played FBI Agent Fritz Howard on The Closer and resumed the role on the spinoff series Major Crimes, is celebrating his 55th.  Allan Graf, who turns 67, started on one of the greatest college football teams ever, the 1972 USC Trojans.  He then went into film work and became a stunt coordinator and second unit director.  He has been something of a sports movie specialist (Friday Night Lights, Any Given Sunday, etc.), but has also done a lot of other films.

Music birthdays include Billy Gibbons.  The guitarist and lead singer of Rock Hall of Fame members ZZ Top turns 67 today.  Sam Most (1930-2013) was considered the first great jazz flutist and recorded over twenty albums as a leader.  Michael McCary, who is turning 45, was the bass vocalist in the Grammy-winning R&B quartet Boyz II Men for nearly 20 years before health problems forced him to leave the group.  Trevor Pinnock, who is 70 today, founded the period instrument orchestra The English Concert in 1972, and was their harpsichordist and conductor for over 30 years.  Benny Andersson, born the same day as Pinnock, was one-fourth of the superstar Swedish quartet ABBA.  He and Björn Ulvaeus wrote virtually all of the group’s music and also collaborated with Tim Rice on the musical Chess.

We have a number of major writers with birth dates today, including one of the greats of the English novel.  That of course is Jane Austen (1775-1817), known for six brilliant novels set among the landed British gentry of the late 18th and early 19th centuries: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.  All of them have had millions of readers and multiple adaptations to other media—straight-up adaptations, looser updatings like Clueless or From Prada to Nada, and mashups like the novel and film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Other literary birthdays today include Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) was one of the “Big Three” of science fiction authors of the post-World War II era, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.  He wrote novels such as Childhood’s End and Rendezvous with Rama, and co-wrote the screenplay of 2001: A Space OdysseyPhilip K. Dick (1928-1982) wrote award-winning sci-fi novels like The Man in the High Castle and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, but is likely better known through the many films adapted from his work, such as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority ReportSir V. S. Pritchett (1900-1997) was known for several collections of short stories and for his literary criticism.  Randall Garrett (1927-1987) was a prolific science fiction and fantasy writer best known for his stories and novel about Lord Darcy, a detective in an alternate history world with a 20th Century Plantagenet dynasty and magic.  Finally, Noël Coward (1899-1973) was best known for his comic plays like Private Lives, Design for Living, and Blithe Spirit.

Two actors who were known for one specific role were born today.  Nicholas Courtney (1929-2011) played the recurring character of Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart on Doctor Who in over 100 episodes in a period of nearly 25 years; he also made an appearance on the spinoff series The Sarah Jane Adventures.  Today is also the reported birth date of Nǃxau ǂToma (1944-2003), the Namibian bush farmer who played the Bushman Xixo in The Gods Must Be Crazy.

I’ll end with the biggest name of all.  December 16 is the generally accepted birth date of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), one of the greatest composers, indeed one of the greatest creative artists, of all time.  Adequately summarizing his career in a paragraph would be impossible, so I will simply say that if you’ve never heard any of his music, do so.  Now.  I’ll leave you with a tiny sample:

If today is your birthday, congratulations on sharing your big day with these notable names.  Birthday wishes to everyone celebrating a big day today.  Come back tomorrow for more celebrity birthdays.


Posted on December 16, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Shane Black is really a fascinating figure. Along with Joe Eszterhaus, Black was one of the highest paid screenwriters in Hollywood. But where Esterhaus was always complainging about not getting the level of respect and compensation he thought he was entitled to, Black felt guilty that he was so much more successful than his peers. For a time, he went into quasi retirement. While the genre has changed a lot since Black’s hey day, his influence can still be felt.

    As a Bergman fan (Ingrid, not Ingmar) I have seen Liv Ullman in Autumn Sonata.

    I first discovered Krysten Ritter in the under-rated sitcom The B- in Apartment 23. I’m not a sitcom guy, but that was a fun show. Also enjoyed her in Jessica Jones. My youngest recently discovered Chronicles of Narnia in school. So she has been watching the movies with Anna Popplewell in addition to reading the books.

    Steven Bochco was so dominant on TV for a time. I watched LA Law for years. James Mangold has done some really good movies. It’s surprising to see him working on X-Men movies. Miranda Otto is really pushing 50? I would never have guessed.

    I know my unironic love of Abba is a matter of record. Thank you for the music, Benny Andersson.

    Wow, some real literary heavy weights were born on this date!


    • Marvel Studio Directors – Shane Black

      It must be good to be blessed with the double whammy of talent and having friends in high places. Shane Black was infamous in Hollywood in the 1980s and 90s for writing the scripts of high-octane action films such as Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2, The Last Boy Scout and Last Action Hero. He was one of the highest paid screenwriters in the business, having been paid $1.75 million to write The Last Boy Scout in 1991 and set the record for the highest paid script ever upon receiving $4 million for The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996.

      After a near decade hiatus following a career downswing, he remerged with his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005, starring Val Kilmer (Top Gun) and Robert Downey Jr. (Soapdish). The film garnered rapturous critical reviews, quickly achieved cult status and got Robert Downey Jr. back in the good graces of Hollywood after a very messy and public drug addiction fallout and incarceration. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang arguably paved the way for Downey Jr. to land the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man. As the living, breathing avatar of Iron Man, RDJ could ask for a roasted white elephant to eat for breakfast and Marvel would have it cooked and delivered for him the next day, so when he put forward the idea of Black directing the third and final Iron Man film, Marvel listened. Good move on their part – they kept their key talent happy and scored a director who would bring a new spin on the franchise after a mediocre sequel.

      While Iron Man 2 made slightly less domestically than Iron Man, $312 million (2010) in comparison to $318 million (2008), Iron Man 3 was the first Marvel film release since the juggernaut that was the Avengers and was the final film of the Iron Man franchise. This unique set of circumstances led to the film rocketing out of the gate with a massive box office for Iron Man’s final solo outing, making $409 million domestic total and $1.2 billion worldwide box office.

      Black’s Iron Man 3 was an acquired taste and wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but overall most critics and fans agreed it was much better than the messy Iron Man 2 (if only Marvel had let Maya be the villain!!!). He also directed the Western pilot Edge, starring Max Martini (The Unit, 13 Hours), Ryan Kwanten (Home and Away, True Blood) and Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck, The Handmaid’s Tale) for Amazon’s pilot season in 2015, which did not get picked up.

      Black leveraged his Iron Man 3 goodwill to make The Nice Guys, a 1970s LA neo-noir action comedy original feature (originality sure is becoming the rarest Pokemon of all in in the film industry) starring Russell Crowe (Gladiator) and Ryan Gosling (The Notebook). Featuring the best Crowe performance in years and Gosling playing a weaselly sad sack rather than the Golden Boy, The Nice Guys was one of the funniest, most original films of 2016, but despite critical raves it was a commercial flop upon release in May 2016, making only $57.3 million worldwide on a $50 million budget. Why can’t we have nice things!!!??? It is flops like these that feed Hollywood’s erroneous belief that nothing but franchises and intellectual property-based films make money grrrrrr! He also wrote the pilot of Fox’s Lethal Weapon television reboot in 2016, which stars Damon Wayans (The Last Boy Scout – the irony!) and Clayne Crawford (Rectify), and has been renewed for a second season.

      Verdict: 7/10. While The Nice Guys crashed and burned commercially, Black hasn’t let it slow him down. Fox hired him to direct the reboot of the Predator franchise, in which he had a small part as Rick Hawkins in the original film. Life really does come full circle in the strangest ways at times, doesn’t it? With an eclectically excellent cast of Boyd Holbrook (Logan), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele), Sterling K. Brown (The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story), Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) and Jacob Tremblay (Room), I’m betting Black will bring something special to the table. He is also attached to direct the Doc Savage reboot and adapt 1970s action pulp series The Destroyer for Sony. Some one may accuse Black of selling out, but at least he is doing so with properties that fit his style and oeuvre. To me, it looks like he’s balancing the industry politics of personal taste and business pretty darn well.


  2. Shane black, I like most of the films that he’s wrote and I’ve seen (the first two Lethal Weapon films rule, and I really like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”). I kinda forgot he’s done a bit of acting from time to time as well.
    Steven Bochco has been a significant figure in television for a long time, and I feel “Hill Strett Blues” is a great blur collar cop series (wow, before there was Bridget Moynahan, then was Veronica Hamel:-).
    I’ve just learned about Miranda Otto, but I find her intriguing.
    Ben Cross, I’ll always remember him from that 1980’s HBO movie “Steal the Sky” and when he played a priest in the 1988 film “The Unholy”.
    Benjamin Bratt, um, I caught a little of that terrible Madonna/Rupert Everett film ” The Next Best Thing”; what pretentious, phony garbage, and Bratt was in it. I’ll remember him more fondly in “Miss Congeniality” and that A&E series “The Cleaner”.
    Jane Austen, I like some of her book (and those people who have adapted those works), while I give kudos to the latter games in the “Saints Row” series for talking about her and having a representation of her as a narrator in the 4th game and the game in which you play in hell.


  3. As someone who’s long been a fan of action movies, Lethal Weapon was a pretty significant action film for its time. The film still holds up very well today and is where I became aware of Shane Black. It took me a long time to realize that the guy who wrote Lethal Weapon was also Hawkins in Predator, another late 80’s classic. Black has a distinct writing style that I also enjoyed in Last Boy Scour and Long Kiss Goodnight.

    A few months ago I bought a boxed set of ZZ TOP’s first ten albums and thoroughly enjoyed them all. I’ve even given a couple of their albums repeat listens. ZZ TOP are probably a bit underappreciated as they are an excellent blues-rock band.


  4. Okay, time to do just a little commenting. 🙂

    I’ve liked quite a few of Shane Black’s films—Lethal Weapon is a genre film classic, The Nice Guys was very good, and even a flawed effort like The Last Boy Scout is reasonably watchable.

    Thinking back, I think Liv Ullmann was actually a pretty big deal in the 1970s. I can recall that, at the time, as a teenager with zero interest in art-house cinema or foreign language films, I was at least aware of her. Most of my Ingmar Bergman viewing has not overlapped with the films she did with him, but I have seen Cries and Whispers, which is a terrific film (although definitely one you don’t watch for simple enjoyment).

    As a Tolkien fan, I have always thought that Miranda Otto made a terrific Eowyn.

    Although I am a UCLA guy myself, I am old enough to remember that incredible 1972 USC football team and just how dominant they were. It was interesting to learn how one member of that team, who was not quite good enough to make it in the NFL, has gone on to a very extensive film career. How Allan Graf got his start in film is interesting:

    After Dick Butkus retired from the NFL, he had a bit of an acting career, and in one of his films they needed someone to double for him convincingly—which meant someone with the size to double a 250-pound ex-linebacker. So several of Graf’s early jobs were doubling for Dick Butkus in a variety of films and TV shows.

    Finally, Beethoven. One of my two very favorite composers ever—for a long time my sole favorite, but as I get older, my appreciation for Mozart increases. You definitely know it is a big name day when Jane Austen is only the second biggest cultural figure on the birthdays list.


  5. The Real Reason You Don’t Hear from Benjamin Bratt Anymore

    After getting his big break playing Detective Reynaldo Curtis on “Law & Order” from 1995 to 1999, Benjamin Bratt was at the top of his game, starring in major roles on both the small and big screens. Leading into the early 2000s, there was plenty of hype surrounding his work and his personal life (remember when he dated Julia Roberts?). But then he suddenly disappeared. Has he been dodging the limelight by choice or necessity? We’ve got the answers.


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