Jonathan Winters, genius improv comedian, has died

Jonathan Winters, he of the malleable face and rapid fire ad lib wit, died Thursday, April 11, in Montecito, California.

Winters, a veteran of World War II (Marine Corps), first developed his unique comedic style as a teenager, talking to himself. Later, as a morning DJ for WING (Dayton, OH), Winters had trouble rounding up guests so he just invented his own, and became an instant hit. Winters honed a wide, and wild, range of characters. Among his more memorable creations was Maude Frickert, a sweet-natured, sharp-tongued granny with a healthy libido. Johnny Carson, who invited Winters back over and over again as a guest on the Tonight Show, ended up stealing Maude and morphing her into his Aunt Blabby.

Robin Williams, whose explosively funny style is often compared to Winters' spontaneously combustive hilarity, credits Winters with inspiring his own funny riffs -- "Jonathan taught me that the world is open for play, that everything and everybody is mockable, in a wonderful way." (interview with the late Ed Bradley on CBS's 60 Minutes). In fact, in Season 4 of Mork and Mindy (Williams plays an alien from outer space with a human roommate, Pam Dawber, whom he later marries ), Winters plays their son, Mearth.

Winters also gave particularly memorable performances in two of the movies in which he had roles -- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966). He also found time to pen Winters' Tales, Stories, and Observations for the Unusual in 1987.

Winters, who was quite candid about his struggles with, and hospitalization for manic depression, died of natural causes at age 87.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Based on Stephen Chbosky’s popular young adult novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman), an introspective loner who loathes the thought of entering high school. Being a freshman is hard enough without dealing with the suicide of a friend, the ghost of his aunt, and his own mental illness while searching for a place to belong. Eventually, Charlie befriends the beautiful and carefree Sam (Emma Watson) and the flamboyant Patrick (Ezra Miller). They take Charlie under their wing and show him how to live a little as he experiences many firsts: midnight screenings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," his first school dance and his first love.

Written and directed by Chbosky, the film is a look at the personalities you might find in high school, maybe those hanging out on darker versions of the 1994-95 TV series My So Called Life or the 1985 film The Breakfast Club. In general, high schoolers are just trying to cope and get by day to day, longing for what’s next. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is another genuine high school film. Chbosky tries to get the audience to embrace the now and enjoy moments as they happen, and to let ourselves experience a greater love than we think we deserve.

Former Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello, has died

Annette Funicello, who, as a child, turned to acting to help deal with her shyness, died this moning in California.

In 1955 at a dance recital in Burbank, CA, where she was the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, she was discovered by Walt Disney who immediately added her to his stable of child actors for his new TV show, The Mickey Mouse Club.

Her popularity with children sent her acting career in many directions. She had a role in the second and third seasons of The Spin and Marty Show and in the short-lived Walt Disney Presents: Annette, which lasted just long enough for her performance of the song How Will I Know My Love? to be released as a single.

When she got older, she appeared in several Disney movies, including The Shaggy Dog (1959) and Babes in Toyland (1961). From there, she and Frankie Avalon became the darlings of the Beach Party movie scene.

In 1992, Ms. Funicello went public with the fact that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, only after rumors persisted that her unsteady gait was due to a drinking problem. She was named a Disney Legend that same year. A few months later she opened her Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders.

Ms. Funicello was 70 years old.

Les Blank, innovative documentary filmmaker, has died

Les Blank, whose much-praised documentaries covered topics as disparate as garlic, the blues, and shoe diets, has died.

Born in Florida in 1935, his first documentaries focused on musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Lightnin' Hopkins. Then he broadened his subjects to include food, women with gapped teeth, and the German director, Werner Herzog.

In the 1980s, Blank came to The University of Michigan for a showing of his sweetly weird Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers. To the delight (and digestive torture) of his audience, Blank had arranged to have garlic roasting in the back of the theater. Currently, this iconic Les Blank film is unavailable in DVD format, which is a shame. In 2004, the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the United States’ National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Another famous Blank documentary made in 1980 is Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, a 20-minute film of the famed director fulfilling a bet he lost to eat his footwear. Herzog wagered that director Errol Morris would never make a film. Morris collected on the bet with the release of his first documentary, The Gates of Heaven,1978, about a California pet cemetery. This odd meal can be seen in the DVD, Burden of Dreams, 1982, Blank's examination of Herzog's challenges in filming his award winning Fitzcarraldo, 1982.

Blank, who had been diagnosed with cancer less than a year ago, was 77.

Cinema Night Special: Discover Fresh Takes on Storytelling Through Animation, Plus Live Music

Friday, May 3 | 6:30-8:30 PM | Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room | Adults

This coming Friday, Cinema Night Special will present two vastly contrasting examples of storytelling through animation. The evening kicks off with a fanciful Oscar-winning short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore -- created in a "hybrid style of animation that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals."

The 80-minute, critically accritically-acclaimed Czech film "Alois Nebel," (Best Animated Film, 2012 European Film Awards) draws from vastly different inspiration —classic film noir. Rendered in mesmerizing black-and-white rotoscope, this darker film traces the haunted memories and mysterious visions of a troubled Czechoslovakian train dispatcher, haunted by events in the Second World War.

Between films, local band Cash Harrison & The Terrible Decisions will perform a live set, and fresh popcorn will be served.

Enjoy this special evening of film and music!

Roger Ebert, beloved Chicago movie critic, has died

Just one day after announcing he was taking a 'leave of presence' from his 46-year gig as movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and his 31-year career on TV reviewing films, Roger Ebert lost his long public battle with salivary and thyroid cancer.

His announcement yesterday said he would just review the movies HE wanted to see and leave the rest of the reviews to his trusted colleagues at the paper. When he lost part of his jaw and thus his ability to eat or speak, he used his good humor and courage to write about his experience fighting, and often triumphing, against, his devastating illness.

Ebert's long career resulted in a 1975 Pulitzer Prize, the first movie critic to receive this honor. The Webby Awards named him their 2010 Person of the Year. And Hollywood, which lived and died by Ebert's laser-beam ethical demand for excellence in all things film, honored him with his own Walk of Fame star in 2005.

Ebert's career took off in a new direction when he and Chicago Tribune movie critic, Gene Siskel, took their 'point/counterpoint' routine to television in 1975. Originally titled Coming Soon to a Theater Near You, PBS picked it up and renamed it Sneak Previews three years later. There were two more name-changes: In 1981, it morphed into At the Movies. Five years later, accompanied by their signature 'thumbs up, thumbs down' rating system, it settled on Siskel & Ebert & the Movies.

Sadly, Siskel died in 1999. He had had brain surgery for brain cancer but it was complications from another surgery that ended his life.

Despite his long fight with illness, Ebert wrote almost seventeen books on movies, the internet, his life (Life Itself: A Memoir, 2011), and yes, even a cookbook for rice cookers (The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker, 2010).

Ebert, who was 70, died today in Chicago.

Irish character actor, Milo O'Shea, has died

Milo O'Shea, an Irish character actor known for his bushy eyebrows and lovely brogue, has died.

Best known in this country for his roles in the campy science fiction film, Barbarella (1968), starring Jane Fonda and the 1982 courtroom thriller, The Verdict, starring Paul Newman, he also enjoyed considerable success in TV. His large body of work included appearances in The Golden Girl, Cheers, Frasier, and in the fifth season of The West Wing, as Chief Justice Roy Ashland.

He also did some stage work, notably performing in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys.

Mr. O'Shea, who was 86, died yesterday in Manhattan.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, award-winning screenwriter and novelist, has died

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Oscar-winning screenwriter and much-honored novelist, died today in Manhattan.

Ms. Jhabvala was born in Germany to Jewish parents who fled to England in 1939. In 1951, Ms. Jhabvala married an Indian architect. They lived in New Delhi for a quarter of century, an experience which informed much of her examination of the privileged lifestyle of the British upperclass in India.

In the early 1960s, she was discovered by filmdom's producer/director power team, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. They had read her 1963 novel, Householder (on order) and asked her to write the screenplay for the film (on order) by the same name which was released later that year.

Thus began a long successful partnership. The Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala 22-film collaboration resulted in two Oscars for Ms. Jhabvala -- A Room with a View (1986) and Howards End (1993).

Ms. Jhabvala was also feted with many literary awards, as well. In 1975, she won the then-called Booker McConnell Prize for Fiction (now known as the Man Booker Prize) for Heat and Dust. In 1984, she was tapped for one of the much-coveted MacArthur Foundation fellowships.

Ms. Jhabvala's last novel, My Nine Lives was published in 2004. Her final book, a collection of short stories, A Lovesong for India came out two years ago. Her very last piece of published writing appeared in the March 25, 2013 edition of The New Yorker. It is a short story called The Judge's Will.

Ms. Jhabvala, who was85, died of an unspecified pulmonary ailment.

A Movie in the Making - Divergent

Veronica Roth says, "Okay, so you may have seen/heard rumors of this already, so it's not exactly new news, but it is Officially Official, which means that I can tell you my thoughts. KATE WINSLET has been cast as Jeanine Matthews! What can I say? When I found out, I was floored. I grew up watching Kate Winslet in movies, whether it was Titanic or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or The Reader, and she is an incredible actress, and I am sure that she will be extraordinary as Jeanine. I'm excited to see the complexity and depth she'll bring to the role."

The film is now in pre-production, and will be coming to theaters sometime in 2014. But you can read the book and it's sequel, Insurgent, now. Roth is in the process of writing the as-yet-untitled third book in the series, which will be published October 22, 2013.

Interview with filmmaker David Sherman

During the Ann Arbor Film Festival's 50th anniversary last year, filmmaker David Sherman spoke with us about his fourth AAFF entry, “Assassination in Dreamland." He also touches on Ann Arbor's connection with San Francisco area filmmakers and the importance of the creative discourse fostered by Festival communities. Check out additional interviews, posters, photographs, and information about this history of the Ann Arbor Film Festival at our Ann Arbor Film Festival Archive.

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