January 14, 2004: Ron O’Neal Dies

On this day in 2004, actor Ron O’Neal died of pancreatic cancer. He is best remembered for the lead role in 1972’s “Superfly,” the story of a drug dealer who wants out of the business and will take out any member of the syndicate who stands in his way.

On this day in 2004, actor Ron O’Neal died of pancreatic cancer. He was 66 years old.

O’Neal is best remembered for the lead role in 1972’s “Superfly,” the story of a drug dealer who wants out of the Superflybusiness and will take out any member of the syndicate who stands in his way. It is the role he should be associated with, as the film is an iconic piece of an American cinema thanks to O’Neal’s performance and a Curtis Mayfield score to match the movie’s star.

This career-making role would turn out to be career-defining as well. “The experience left me upset,” he said in a 1979 interview with The Times. “Controversy served to obscure my performance, which was not an easy thing to pull off. Outside New York, people assumed I really was a hustler. ‘Superfly‘ took me from relative obscurity, but I haven’t been offered that many roles since.”

O’Neal turned down offers to appear in blaxploitation flick spoof “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka,” and “The Return of Superfly,” but performed in numerous television series including The Equalizer, A Different World and Hill Street Blues and would appear in supporting roles in many films in the 1980s and 90s. His role in the World War III actioner “Red Dawn,” had him playing a Cuban colonel assisting in a Soviet-led communist invasion of the United States. His performance had him speaking only Russian and Spanish and consisted of facial expressions showing the ambivalence of a commander trying to do his duty but coping with the fact that he is killing civilians. O’Neal revealed in a video interview that his voice was dubbed by a Cuban actor. The fact that it is difficult to tell is a testament to his talent.

Ironically, O’Neal passed away on the same day that “Superfly” was released on DVD. If you haven’t rented it, you should, for it is an amazing performance from the actor, even if it did typecast him.

January 7, 1964: Nicholas Cage Born

On this day in 1964, actor Nicholas Cage was born Nicholas Kim Coppola in Long Beach, CA. The nephew of Francis Ford Coppola changed his name early in his career to set his own reputation, and by 20, already had a
starring role in “Racing with the Moon.”

On this day in 1964, actor Nicholas Cage was born Nicholas Kim Coppola in Long Beach, CA. The nephew of Francis Ford Coppola changed his name early in his career to set his own reputation, and by 20, already had a dreamstime_xs_25372383
starring role in “Racing with the Moon.”

After standing out in the 1980s and early 90s by playing quirky, often funny, characters, Cage won the Academy Award in 1995 for “Leaving Las Vegas.” The award helped him transform into a bona fide action movie star and Cage has remained a leading man ever since.

Cage often makes two to three movies a year, possibly due to his reported lavish spending habits. Some are good and some are bad, but it may be impossible to see all of them. Here are five essentials.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans: Top cop Cage hurts his back and goes on a painkiller-fueled, hellacious odyssey through post-Katrina New Orleans. His journey is pitiful and depraved, yet you still want him to survive. That says more about the performance than the state of society.

Honeymoon in Vegas: Cage initially stood out as an actor with edgy performances that made audiences laugh. His performance as a man who loses a card game and his forced to let his girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker) spend the weekend with a gambler (James Caan) shows that talent at its zenith.

Face/Off: Director John Woo’s Hong Kong action movies walked the fine line between epic and absurd and were held in place by performances like Chow Yun Fat’s in “The Killer.” For Woo’s only American movie that closely resembled the style and feel of his Hong Kong exploits, that anchor was Cage, who made audiences believe that he could go from psychopathic terrorist to moral federal agent via surgical procedure.

Raising Arizona: “Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.” Enough said.

Leaving Las Vegas: Cage’s Oscar-winning performance is also his best as he plays an alcoholic who goes to Vegas with the sole purpose of drinking himself to death. To prepare for the role, Cage would record himself drunk. It paid off with a performance that stays with you more than 15 years after seeing it.

January 4, 2002: D-Tox Released in Denmark

On this day in 2002, the Sylvester Stallone thriller “D-Tox” was released in Denmark, Finland and Greece. This movie contains what may be Sly’s best performance.

D-ToxOn this day in 2002, the Sylvester Stallone thriller “D-Tox” was released in Denmark, Finland and Greece. The film was plagued with so many problems that it wouldn’t appear in the United States (as “Eye See You”) until November 2002 in a direct-to-DVD release. And that is truly a shame because amongst the rubble of this wreck of a movie lies what may be Sly’s best performance (spoilers ahead).

Stallone plays a detective tracking a serial killer, and when the villain brutally murders his fiancée, he transgresses into full-blown alcoholism. His commander sends him to a rehabilitation facility in the remote regions of Wyoming that treats cops dealing with substance abuse, but things go haywire when the killer follows him there.

The film had so much promise. Jim Gillespie had signed on to direct coming off of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and a strong cast was assembled, which included Charles Dutton, Polly Walker, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Lang, Tom Berenger, Jeffrey Wright, Robert Prosky, Courtney B. Vance and Robert Patrick. Yet once the movie takes us to the rehab facility, it becomes a choppy, disjointed mess. The film cuts from scene to scene in a manner that leaves the audience feeling like they are watching a poorly planned production. And if you can’t figure out who the killer is one hour in to the movie, bless your heart. I have to imagine Universal’s decision to send this movie with a $55 million budget straight to DVD must have been a hard one.

In an interview with Ain’t Cool News in 2006, Stallone had this to say about “D-Tox.”

“A film is a very delicate creature. Any adverse publicity or internal shake-up can upset the perception of – and studio confidence in – a feature. For some unknown reason the original producer pulled out and right away the film was considered damaged goods; by the time we ended filming there was trouble brewing on the set because of overages and creative concerns between the director and the studio. The studio let it sit on the shelf for many months and after over a year it was decided to do a re-shoot. We screened it, it tested okay, Ron Howard was involved with overseeing some of the post-production… but the movie had the smell of death about it. Actually, if you looked up, you could see celluloid buzzards circling as we lay there dying on the distributor’s floor.”

Despite all of those difficulties, Stallone nails the part, managing to go from top-notch detective to alcoholic battling his demons in a more than convincing fashion. Okay, maybe it’s not “Rocky,” but if the rest of “D-Tox” had matched his performance, we would talking about one of the best thrillers of the past decade.