Tuesday, November 30, 2010

R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen and Irvin Kershner

Last Sunday I heard that comedy actor Leslie Nielsen died at the age of 84. Shortly after finding out about Nielsen I also read about Irvin Kershner dying the day before, Kershner was 87 years old. Both men have made significant contributions to pop culture, and to hear that they have both died is horrible.

Leslie Nielsen, 1926-2010:
Did you know he was Canadian?

Leslie Nielsen was not a comedian. If he was forced to get in front of an audience on a stage he probably wouldn't have a single joke to tell. What he was, was a comedy actor. Nobody could work a gag like Nielsen. While his films may have been over-the-top and silly, he always kept a straight face. He understood that you didn't have to ham it up to get a laugh. He was like an old, silly uncle. Earnest in his convictions, but dumped into whatever situation the director threw him in (no wonder they cast him as Mr. Magoo).

He originally began his career as a serious actor, starring in such films as Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure. Then Airplane! came, and forced Neilsen to reinvent his whole career. With the success of Airplane!, and his standout role as a doctor stuck on the doomed airliner. The Zucker brothers made Nielsen their go-to star. The Naked Gun film series further solidified Nielsen as a spoof movie king and guaranteed Nielsen work for the rest of his life. The movies may not have always been good, to be honest a fair amount of them were terrible, however Nielsen never phoned in any of his performances. He always managed to have fun on screen and it showed through. That and he got to play Santa Clause twice, which is one more time than award winning actor/director Richard Attenborough.

Irvin Kershner 1923-2010:

Lets get this out of the way, the reason why you should respect Kershner is because he directed The Empire Strikes Back, which is considered to be the best Star Wars film ever. Kershner managed to bring a humanity to Star Wars that all the other films missed. There's a reason why you are more emotionally invested in Empire than all the other Star Wars films, it's because it's the one that focuses on the characters more. Yes there's the badass battle of Hoth (recreated nicely in the Shadows of the Empire N64 video game), and there's the duel between Vader and Luke (as a kid I referred to Empire as "That movie where the guy gets his hand chopped off"), but those are only small parts of the film. Kershner made sure to focus on the characters we care about, not set pieces or people that would make kickass action figures. He populated the screen with characters we cared about.

The best of the Star Wars films.

Before Star Wars, Kershner was a respected film director. Though his work was not as well known as Empire, he made a nice name for himself on the small films he made. When the director asked Lucas why he was chosen to direct a Star Wars film, Lucas answered (according to Wikipedia), ""Well, because you know everything a Hollywood director is supposed to know, but you're not Hollywood."

The next big movie after Empire was a James Bond film, titled Never Say Never Again. Never Say Never Again is interesting on two counts: it brought Sean Connery back in the role as Bond and it wasn't made by EON, Bond's usual production company. Not only did Kershner have the balls to make a Bond movie without EON, but he released it around the same time as Octopussy, Moore's second-to-last Bond film. While Octopussy made more money, Never Say Never Again still made $160 million and got a better score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Connery also got to make-out with Kim Basinger, Suck it Moore.

Kershner's next movie was Robocop 2, which managed to out-crazy the original film, directed by the insane Paul Vehoeven. Robocop 2 was darker, more violent, and a lot more over-the-top than the original film. Sadly, the film was not met with kind reviews or box office. The movie has grown in respect however, after the abortion Robocop 3 was released.

It's sad to see these two men pass, however, their cinematic legacy is still there for future generations to enjoy. I doubt Empire Strikes Back will be forgotten anytime soon, and Leslie Nielsen has made so many movies, he's bound to be on television at some point.

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