British actor Joss Ackland, who notably appeared in “Lethal Weapon 2” and “The Hunt for Red October,” died Sunday morning, his longtime agent confirmed to The Times. He was 95.
“He died of old age this morning with his family around,” Ackland’s talent agent, Paul Pearson, told The Times on Sunday. “He was lucid, erudite and mischievous to the end.”
Ackland appeared onscreen alongside Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Richard Donner’s 1989 film “Lethal Weapon 2” as the main antagonist Arjen Rudd. He also starred as Andrei Lysenko in 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October,” which also featured Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery, James Earl Jones and Tim Curry.
He was a prolific actor, with more than 200 acting credits in a career that spanned six decades. Ackland was also noted for his roles in the films “White Mischief” — for which he received a BAFTA nomination for best actor in a supporting role — “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” and “Watership Down.” Some of his notable television roles include the 1979 adaptation of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Shadowlands” and “The Avengers.”
Ackland’s last onscreen appearance came in 2014 when he was featured in the film “Decline of an Empire,” which also happened to be the last movie that Peter O’ Toole appeared in.
The consistently employed thespian was also a staple of British theater. He appeared in dozens of plays across England and his show business career fully launched when he joined the Old Vic Theatre in London. While at the Old Vic, Ackland shared the stage with Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. He starred as Juan Perón in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” and alongside Hermione Gingold in the London staging of “A Little Night Music.”
Born Sidney Edmond Jocelyn Ackland in North Kensington, London, on Feb. 29, 1928, Ackland made his first professional appearance on the stage at the age of 17 in a 1954 production of “The Hasty Heart.”
He is survived by his seven children, 34 grandchildren and 30 great grandchildren.
CHICKEN RUN: DAWN OF THE NUGGET Review
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Brenda Lee debuted ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ in 1958. It just hit No. 1
Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” just topped the charts 65 years after its initial release.
Debuting in 1958, with a 13-year-old Lee belting the holiday classic, the song has finally reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although it didn’t take off upon its first release, the upbeat song did break into the top 20 in late December 1960.
Then, in 1990, the song experienced a resurgence: A savvy Kevin McCallister staged a holiday party scene to trick burglars staking out his house in the classic Christmas movie “Home Alone,” and Lee’s song blasted from inside the home. Lee recently told Entertainment Tonight that she thinks “Home Alone” was the catalyst that pushed the song into the mainstream.
The multiplatinum holiday hit was in regular rotation on oldies radio stations of yore, and in 2014, streaming services helped boost its chart status. It’s been a mainstay every year since, spending nine weeks at No. 2 just last year.
Now, Lee, 78, the oldest person to officially top the Hot 100, has surpassed Louis Armstrong’s long-held record for “Hello, Dolly!” that he scored in 1964 at age 62. The “Jingle Bell Rock” and “I’m Sorry” singer also remains one of a small number of female artists to have been inducted into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“If I could jump out of my clothes, I would,” Lee told Variety of her song topping the charts. “I have wonderful, wonderful fans that have been with me from the first time I opened my mouth to sing, and they’ve stayed with me, and everybody’s been loyal, and I’m more happy for them than I am for me. You can’t keep a good song down.”
“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” the soundtrack to many a-Christmas-party-hop, was written by Johnny Marks, who also wrote “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Lee credits the song’s success to the team of musicians and producers that made it the complete Christmas package.
“Well, you know what? [The appeal] is not necessarily me,” she told Variety, noting that famed producer Owen Bradley was “such a genius” and had “the A-Team of musicians, with Boots Randolph, who’s got the [sax solo] on that song, and the Anita Kerr Singers.”
“You put those kind of people together and it’s magic, and it happens every time you play it,” she continued. “I don’t normally listen to myself ever once I’ve recorded a song. This one I can listen to, and I don’t know why. . . It’s just a magical thing for me.”
The 65-year gap between the song’s original release and its acme position is the longest in history, according to Billboard. The record was previously held by Mariah Carey in 2019 when “All I Want for Christmas is You” topped the charts 25 years after its initial release.
When Lee was recently asked if she rocks to her own holiday hit, she confirmed that she does.
“I wonder if Mariah does though, or if she rocks to hers?” she mused, about the self-styled Queen of Christmas.
Last month, after more than half a century, Lee finally released a music video for “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” in which she sings along with her 13-year-old self, dances merrily and clinks glasses with her “girlfriends” Tanya Tucker and Trisha Yearwood.
The song has also been making the rounds on TikTok as many users expressed their disbelief that Lee was only a teenager when she provided the mature-sounding vocals to the seasonal hit.
Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ on Netflix, a Perfectly Fine Family Movie Further Proving That IP is King
It’s-a here: The Super Mario Bros. Movie is watchable at home (now streaming on Netflix, in addition to streaming on VOD services like Amazon Prime Video), officially and legally now, after it leaked on Twitter during the spring of 2023. Whoops? Either way, it didn’t eat too much into the film’s box office take, which currently stands at $1.3 billion-with-a-B internationally, a number that implies many things, including but not limited to, the following: 1. STUDIOS NEED TO RELEASE MORE FAMILY-ORIENTED FILMS THEATRICALLY, all caps necessary, because TSMBM’s popularity not only reflects the power of Mario IP, but a pent-up audience that didn’t have a reason to go to the movies for what felt like eons (the previous kid-friendly release was Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which debuted more than four months prior). 2. Wow, 1993’s live-action Super Mario Bros. looks extra-terrible now. And 3. Nothing’s official yet, but in the wake of such major international success, I’d wager my life savings that Universal already has greenlit 2 Mario 2 Bros., King Boo: Electric Boogaloo, Donkey Kong Hits the Bong (with Seth Rogen reprising the voice role, and writing and directing of course), Yoshi’s Revenge, Princess Peach and the Legend of Curly’s Gold, The Mario Kart Movie, Mario Kart 2: Cruise Control, Mario Kart Meets Paul Blart, Mario Kart: Dark Land Drift, The Super Smash Bros. Movie, Super Smash Bros.: The Quest for Peace and The Amityville ? Block, just for starters. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, and stick to reviewing a completely unreviewable movie.
The Gist: We get the ball rolling in another world or dimension or something, where we meet Bowser (Jack Black), a very large imperialist turtle who enslaves a race of small penguins and conquers/destroys their icy lands. And then he finds a ? box and smashes it and takes control of the super star inside of it, which is this movie’s MacGuffin. CUT TO: Modern-day Brooklyn, where plumber brothers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) have just launched their own business with a TV commercial that makes the Ghostbusters’ ad look like La Dolce Vita. But it works, because they get their first call and rush out to fix the leak, their side-scrolling journey accompanied by Slayer guitarist Kerry King’s shredding guest solo on the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” proof that what was edgy and cool several decades ago will eventually be tamed by the pop-cultural blandification machine and assimilated into the deathless nostalgia borg (and pad the musical artists’ bank accounts with “passive income”). Not only do our guys wrestle with persnickety pipes, but they have an encounter with an aggressive dog, a sequence that has nothing to do with anything whatsoever, but hey, at least we have something amusing to look at, with the bright colors and goofy characters and zany action, right?
Then Mario and Luigi go home. They’re two adult men still living with their parents, and everyone doubts their ability to maintain reasonable self-employment. Here, we learn that Mario thinks mushrooms are yucky, and won’t eat them, which is what you call an inside joke. Suddenly, an opportunity for our boys to prove themselves pops up when a Brooklyn water main breaks and they rush off to help – but they end up being sucked into a magic pipe and deposited into a strange world chock-full of spinoff-able intellectual property. Luigi finds himself in the Dark Land, where Bowser’s minions scoop him up and imprison him. Mario drops into the Mushroom Kingdom, where he meets a little weird guy named Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), who takes him to his leader, Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who’s shocked to see another human in… what exactly is this place called, anyway? Mario World? It can’t be, not yet, because I’ve just realized this movie is, insert deep sigh here, an Origin Story.
I digress. Mario wants to find Luigi, which dovetails with Peach’s desire to vanquish Bowser before he lays waste to the peaceful and benign Mushroom Kingdom. But first, she has to train Mario in the art of platform gaming, which involves leaping on little blocks and ducking under things that wallop you and busting ? blocks that give you extra powers, and all that. She zooms through the training course – in heels, even! – lickety-split, while Mario trial-and-errors his way through it, failing and starting over and failing and starting over and failing and starting over like he’s in a… a… what do you call it… time loop? Is that right? Maybe not. Anyway, before they face Bowser, Peach determines that they need to get help from the Kongs, a conglomeration of apes who include Cranky (Fred Armisen), Donkey (Seth Rogen) and Diddy, although the latter only makes a brief cameo and is probably being saved for the sequel. And then comes the Super Smash Bros. part, and then the Mario Kart part, and then the big boss battle, which occurs during Bowser’s attempt to force Peach into marrying him. Meanwhile, where the hell is Yoshi? I could answer that but, you know, NO SPOILERS.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Is it sacrilege to say Wreck-It Ralph? Kind of. It’s definitely sacrilege to say Wreck-It Ralph is the better movie, but the truth cares not for context.
Watching Hearing: Let’s just say Jack Black is the only feasible casting choice when the character is a version of Bowser who likes to sit at the piano and channel his inner Elton (or Kate Bush?).
Memorable Dialogue: Praising the Mario Bros.’ TV ad, Luigi makes a probably unintentional thou-dost-protest-too-much meta-joke about the movie itself: “That is not a commercial. That. Is. Cinema!”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: Allow me to push past the Mario Movie’s obvious crowd-pleasing nature and cheery escapism for some typical film-critic pedantry: This thing feels like it was written by a calculator. It’s less a screenplay and more of a loose outline, a list of inter-franchise references strung together by the flimsiest of plots and hits-of-the-’80s needle drops: There’s a nod to an old TV cartoon, there’s a recognizable character making a cameo, there’s ‘Holding Out for a Hero,’ there’s some action inspired by one of the video games, and hey is that Seth Rogen’s voice I hear? It dashes along lickety-split and only slows down for a brief intermission in which Black-as-Bowser-but-mostly-as-Black croons a torch song for Princess Peach, which is one of the movie’s rare moments of inspired comedy. It’s all so transparently mechanical in its structure. And that’s the issue with longstanding franchises-slash-intellectual property – it once was the product of inspiration, now it’s just a product.
But it’s easy to be of two minds about the movie, because it’s lively, expertly animated, energetic, lightly amusing and modestly ambitious. If there’s anything resembling a message here, maybe it’s the portrait of Mario as a man of perseverance (although you’ve already learned that lesson if you’ve been tempted to wing your $80 joy-con through the window after being killed by Bouldergeist for the 116th time in a row.) Nobody’s trying to change the world here, or invoke the tragedy of the human condition. It’s not Pixar, it’s the company behind Minions delivering a bullseye for eight-year-olds who will giggle and whoop for 92 minutes, then go home, snug their plush Shy Guy in the crick of their arm, pick up the Nintendo controller and launch a campaign to spend $60 of their parents’ money for a new game. It’s perfectly fine with adhering to the relentless-joke-factory-with-celeb-voices formula, and executing it for maximum appeal. As for the “controversy” over Pratt voicing Mario – did you really want to hear an obnoxious faux-Italian stereotype voice IT’S-A-ME!-ing in your face for 92 minutes? That was the smartest calculation of all.
Our Call: STREAM IT. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is entirely acceptable family entertainment. It also leaves plenty of room for improvement when the inevitable sequels, spinoffs and series are launched in a quest for the next billion dollars.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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