With the sudden passing of Ray Liotta, Alex explores the career of this truly great character actor. Ray Liotta played intense psychopaths to perfection, but there was a lot more depth to his work. He will be sorely missed.
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Hey, everyone. Welcome to What are you watching? I'm Alex Withrow, and I am going to be doing this one solo today because it's May 26th, 2022 Our Gaspar Noe podcast we've been looking forward to for a long time was published this morning I hopped on Twitter to promote that, get that out there. And as I'm writing that tweet, I see shockingly that the great character actor Ray Liotta has passed away at the age of 67 and this is wow. I mean I saw that in this is one where I had to walk away like I just kept saying no, no, no. And then you know, you do the thing where you go on like however many new sources you have to to verify it. And I'm like, OK, this is yeah, this is real. This sucks. It's also really difficult news time in general. When is it not? But it's not a lot of joy to be found in the news right now. And this just hits heavy as far as celebrity passing so I do not know what happened. It seems like it was in his sleep in a hotel room in the Dominican Republic. He's filming a movie down there. This was a career that myself and I'm assuming a lot of us thought this was going to go on for more decades. He was still delivering. This is a guy who delivered a knockout performance with performance number one. And then shortly after that, he does even better. And, you know, the most famous movie he's still ever been in. And In 2021, he delivered a performance in one of my favorite movies of the year, no sudden move as this kind of heavy but still funny mob boss. My point is, since I've been alive, I've loved this guy and he's always delivered me consistent work over and over. You know, we talk about character actors a lot on the show because these are people, men and women who a lot of us, even general movie audiences, will recognize their face. It's the common thing. Like they're in everything, but you don't know their name, OK? Most people know what Ray Liotta looks like. You've seen one or two movies of his, but if you're like me and obsessed with film and have been for ever then this guy has been in your life in a major way. And I mean, I love character actors so much. I've said for a long time that if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Christopher McDonald. We did an entire episode on him. I love Chris Mack. Number two for me was always Ray Liotta. It always I it's just. Wow. So this one definitely for me personally hits very heavy because I've just been a fan of his for as long as I have been a fan of movies. And it's not, you know, he can make bad movies bearable or sometimes even re watchable. Every movie I'm going to talk about here is not like a masterpiece. Not every movie, but a character actor is in it's going to be Goodfellas it's just not the way it works. You know, Ray Liotta is not on set for these movies every single day. A lot of these, he's just going to be there and be in a scene or two. But I am hard pressed to think of a movie even if he's in a scene or two, that he did not steal those scenes. And then when he's gone, you're usually like, Are we going to get that character back? Coming back? I really liked him. I don't have many notes here, if any. I'm just going to talk about I'm going to go in order of his career and talk about some of my favorite work of his and why some of it meant a lot to me. You know, I think the most common thing that people say about Ray Liotta and the characters he played a lot of intensity, right? A lot of tough guys, criminals, psychopaths, a lot of screaming, all done very convincingly. So convincingly that I think some people started to think that's who this guy really was. But, you know, by his account, he was adopted. He was a very sensitive kid. And he said many times in many interviews that he got typecast as playing those roles and he was making a living off of playing those roles. But that is not the way he was in real life. He said he had never been in a fight. And that that's just fascinating to me. It's fascinating that someone who's played some of the most convincing psychos in the last, what, 35 years of cinema is a nice guy in real life. And I'm you know, this news is still very recent. So my first cursory kind of look at Twitter, I'm already seeing a lot of celebrities from varying careers. Everyone from Lorraine Bracco to Seth Rogen talking about how nice of a guy this guy was. We all know he's a great actor, but everyone's saying how nice he is, how funny he was. And he did that in his roles occasionally. You know, he wasn't always this manic, intense guy, this foreboding guy. He did know how to dip into comedy even when he was playing Psycho sometimes. But we're going to get into some of these a lot of these just man, what a sad day. Unexpected from nowhere. But speaking to that sensibility of him being very nice in real life, I actually got to meet Ray Liotta very briefly. And ages ago in 2003, I was in high school and I was in New York with some fellow classmates and there were a few teachers there as chaperons. We had like won some award at Columbia. So, you know, we were there for a couple of days staying at a Time Square hotel and late one night, I mean, this is like 1030, 11, I think we were. Where the hell were you coming from? We were coming from a different show. Avenue Q That's right. We had seen that on Broadway. We're like, Come on back, it's late. It's kind of cold because it's not officially spring yet. And our jackets on and I noticed like 15, 20 people huddled up around a door, and I didn't know this was the thing. I know it's a thing now, but when a Broadway show is done, people, fans will wait at, you know, a back entrance for the cast to leave. And if a cast member is gracious enough, they'll stand back there and, you know, talk for a little bit, sign a few autographs, something like that. So I walk by and you know, I'm curious. So I ask what kind of what's everyone waiting for? And they told me, you know, Ray Liotta is in a show in this theater, and he's going to come out here any minute. And he usually signs a few autographs. So I made it very known that I was going to stay and my teacher was cool enough with me to stay. Apparently, she kind of had a childhood crush on Mr. Liotta, so that all worked out. And, you know, we're waiting like ten, 15 minutes talking to people. And he comes out and he looks tired because he's just gotten off work. He's gotten off stage and probably wants to go home, get some sleep. And I like to tell the story because the dude just stood there in the cold signing these autographs talking to people, not blowing people off. People are paying him compliments. He's taking the time to talk to people. And while I was waiting for him to come out, I got the idea that he had been doing this the entire run of his show. And that's just cool. I mean, this is that's just a really cool thing for a really famous person to do. I love that. I love hearing that he's coming out of the back of this theater night after night. He's got this crowd of fans, and he's not leaving until the last autograph is signed. You know, I got a picture I got an autograph, that whole thing. And it's just it's a memory I have always cherished and will hold on to even more. Now, let's get into some of this work. This I'm not going to talk about all of them. Go on IMDB. He has a crazy amount of credits. I have seen the majority of them. Not all the TV. I'll get to that. But I'm just going to go through some of the movies I've liked along the way, some of which I still love, some of which I liked as a kid. And maybe they don't hold up as much now. That's OK. I just love Ray. That's all so when I was younger, I thought Ray Liotta career pretty much started with Field of Dreams, and then that magically went into this iconic role of Henry Hill in Goodfellas. When in fact you got to go back to 1986. Jonathan Demme’s something wild. This is Liotta’s breakout role. He plays Ray Sinclair, a genuine bona fide legit psychopath. He's an ex-boyfriend, Melanie Griffith, and he just terrorizes her. And Jeff Daniels, go see this movie. This is one I discovered a little later in life and I'm just so, you know, Demme is one that Criterion has really gotten behind now, which is great. This is a movie that is now it's much easier to find than it was years ago. So if you like Ray and you like seeing Ray get down and crazy, this is a great place to start. Something wild. Dominick and Eugene in 1988. This was one that was on TV a little bit when I was a kid. It's I just tried to find if it was available anywhere it is not he's really good in that with Tom Hulce now Field of Dreams Shoeless Joe Jackson. What's so cool about this performance because he's not in it too much. This is obviously the Kevin Costner show of course but as Shoeless Joe, there is a mysticism to Liotta like an inherent belief in what's happening that makes us the audience believe it. And his conviction just makes us go on that journey right away because I'm not I've never been a fan of when movies sit in denial, denial, denial, denial so long like Field of Dreams isn't going to work for an hour and 50 minutes. Shoeless Joe has to, like, convince Kevin Costner what's going on you know, part of the fun of that movie is when people get it, they get it. And the sooner people get it, it helps us get it more. I mean, get it in terms of believe you know, can you see it? And he is really our first entry into that. And I just I love the way he plays this. He just has this magic to him the whole time. It's, oh, God, it's so great. Henry Hill, 1990 Goodfellas, his most iconic probably his best role. Definitely a major, major breakout hit post Goodfellas. He's now Ray Liotta. He's not the crazy guy from something wild or Shoeless Joe from Field of Dreams. He's Ray Liotta and I what's to say that hasn't been said at times. He's so menacing like when he's pistol whipping that shithead neighbor in the driveway. And then he's also incredibly charming. Like when we're following him in Lorraine Bracco, one of the most iconic shots and scenes in film history, their chemistry, I mean, throughout the highs and lows, so believable throughout. I love watching them together. What's also great about this performance is that we see the mafia terror really start to weigh on him. I mean, it is clear that Henry Hill's psychosis isn't quite as demented as De Niro's or Joe Pesci's. And that's realized so well. Even in those glances, those facial expressions, during the Billy Batts killing, you know, I didn't mean to get blood on your floor. And then he just looks at Joe Pesci like that. That's your main concern right now, dude. Oh, God. And the way he seems really genuinely busted up when Spider's killed, he just, you know, he's dead. It's like, yeah, lucky shot. And then. Wow. I mean, Sunday, May 11, that whole sequence jump into the fire. We've talked about this on the pod a lot. I don't know exactly how long it took them to film all of that, but he is maintaining that insane, coked up energy throughout and it's so convincing that it's alarming like this dude. OK, I mean, I love Isaiah Whitlock, JR is a doctor, you know? Jesus, man, what the hell happened to you? Let me take a look at you. God, I mean, Henry Hill, Goodfellas, this is it's iconic as Ray Liotta gets I could talk about this movie, this performance forever. How can you not put this one on very shortly after a day like today. Unlawful entry. 1992 here. He's just going for psycho like there he's trying to go as demented as Pesci in Goodfellas plays an L.A. cop who becomes absolutely obsessed with a couple Kurt Russell and Madeline Stowe. He's just a great cheesy 90s thriller that is seriously elevated by Liotta’s manic energy. He's nuts in this really fun performance. Again, like I said, he could make bad movies bearable or better or re watchable. And I'm not just talking about all timer movies today, but whatever he was in, he was good in them. Like, OK, no, escape, unforgettable turbulence. These are not great movies. But hell, I mean, I rewatched Turbulence shortly after COVID hit, I think it was on Amazon Prime, and I had a blast. I mean, that's such an improbable, stupid action movie. It's ridiculous. But he's absolutely going for it the whole time. He's just terrorizing Lauren Holly at 40,000 feet. I love it. Oh, turbulence. But then we get another gear from him, right? Operation Dumbo Drop Muppets in Space. I watched those movies as a kid, too. It was like seeing Michael Madsen pop up as the dad and Free Willy. It's like, well, this. This guy who always plays psychos can play a dad. I just loved it. I mean, I love Ray Liotta playing these dad roles. He was. Oh, he was just good at them as well. This is another milestone for me. COPLAND 1997. He's playing figs. This is James Mangold, second film. It's still my favorite. Mangold If you have not seen Cop land and you are in the mood for a Ray Liotta movie, go see this damn movie. Sylvester Stallone is definitely the lead. It's his show. It also contains his best work. But Liotta is kind of the vicious heart of the movie. He plays a crooked cop wrestling with his life, his place in the world, his jobs, his dependency on substances. He's bloated, he's drunk, washed up, coked out. It's a fully lived in performance. He's got scenes with Sly where he's gentle. But then he also has to push him and he has to get rage, you know, go do something. You know, go ramp Broadway to get to Broadway. You zigzag, you go diagonal He has a ferocious scene with Robert Patrick in a bar. You won't forget it if you watch it. Great stuff. This is the type of movie that really, really sticks to the ending and it gets it right and it's so well done. And he is a big part of that. I love this movie. I love Ray and it a great film. Cop land A few years after Cop land, he played Sinatra in the Rat Pack movie. It's it was made for TV. It's not like the best TV movie, but the guys who play the Rat Pack are all good. I just wanted to highlight that there must have been a lot of fun for him. Another fun performance for him, I'm sure. Hannibal, he's playing like you're DC Justice Department. Shit heel. If you have seen this movie, you will not forget Liotta’s final scene, so just go watch it. This movie in general is just insane. As a ten year later, follow up to Silence of the Lambs. Like, this movie's nuts. So I wanted to hop on and do this, this raw kind of podcast with this raw energy because, you know, I just found this out and I wanted to get it down and talk about it and talk about Ray. In doing so, I could not be joined by my co-host, which for this movie coming up in particular is a bit of a shame. So I'm going to rep it pretty hard in Nic's absence. Blow made in 2001 is next favorite film here. Here, Liotta’s playing Johnny Depp's dad. What great chemistry. Not only do they have together where you really buy them immediately as father and son, but Liotta’s work. Starts earlier when Johnny Depp's character still a kid and he's you know, he's so great. He's like busting the balls of the guy on his construction crew. It's really funny. And then so his dynamic with Depp throughout, you really feel this. I'm always going to support you. I'm always going to love you. I'm your dad, but I cannot endorse every decision you're making. Like, come on, buddy. And then but then also, there's this whole other relationship going on with Rachel Griffiths, who plays his wife in the movie, Liotta’s wife, and whatever the hell those two worked out beforehand. Plays so well in this movie. There they are, the old married couple. It's like they've been the old married couple since the first year they were married who can't stand each other more. So she doesn't seem to be able to stand him. And he's just this, you know, kind of downtrodden guy who is putting up with it in his disdain for her at times is so palpable. Sometimes it's funny, like nag, nag, nag, nag at the dinner. And then sometimes, you know, she does something that well, I don't know. It's an interesting question. Like she does something to Johnny Depp's character later in the movie that the dad does not appreciate in the way he plays that and the way they play off each other. It's just, you know, it probably wouldn't be easy raising a major distributor of drugs. So they play that really well. Next up, for any Ray Liotta fan, we have an all timer, Henry Oak in the film, Narc from 2002. This is genuinely one of my favorite movies so far this century. This thing is real, real down to the fucking bone, Liotta’s such a heavy hitter here, literally put on a ton of weight. He has an immense presence, as is crooked cop Henry Oak, I don't want to say too much about the movie because I wonder, I suspect if, like Cop land, this could be a movie that some people haven't seen that they've been wanting to see. And if that's the case, then watch this immediately, because I'm. Well, all right. I'm just going to do this now because I have there's a really, really egregious aspect of Ray Liotta’s career that we can't ignore if I'm doing this. And that's the fact that Ray Liotta, zero Oscar nominations, zero screen Actors Guild nominations, zero BAFTA nominations, whatever, that is asinine. That has never held up well. And it will not hold up now, especially now. It's just shocking. No, Goodfellas nom is silly. I've never understood that. But no supporting nomination here for Narc for Henry Oak. Baffling. He did get an indie spirit award nomination. That's good. But no Oscar nominees. Just dumb dumb. Go see Narc. the next year. The next year, he reteams with James Mangold for identity. I really like this movie you know it's a fun contained 90 minute long thriller it's got twists on top a twist there's John Cusack, one of Nick's favorites Ray Liotta one of my favorites in the other plays his part very well. People have seen that movie. They know what I mean you buy everything he's doing. I'm going to I might rewatch this one tonight It’s only 90 minutes and I love Liotta in it now we have things like John Q Revolver, Slow Burn, Smokin’ Aces, Observe and report, date night. Countless, countless others. These are the types of movies I'm talking about where he's just popping up for a scene or two. Any add some some gravitas, frankly, to everything, even if he's funny like an observe and report, he was always a joy to watch. And that's just true of damn near everything he was in those movies I just mentioned and again yeah countless others killing them softly 2013 Markie Trappman everybody likes Markie I mean this poor bastard I love him so much. This is another performance that if you've seen it, you're not going to forget his final scene. The way he plays it, the way it's shot, the way its sound mixed, It's Oh, what a poor bastard. I just. I love Markie Trappman. Shortly after that, I mean, we dedicated the whole episode to this film. Episode 13 The Place Beyond the Pines again, he's not in this movie very much, but the second you meet him, his presence weighs on that entire second chapter. He's so foreboding and intimidating. This is another great character actor performance. She's coming in for two or three scenes and absolutely stealing it. OK, guys, get a cup of coffee up. His behavior in the way he is with Rose Byrne is so creepy. Like, you know, getting in there for dinner, inviting himself in, using the racist language. I mean, it's just so, oh, he's such a shithead and he's not in the movie much at all. And you just believe his utter shitting this right away marriage story came out just a few years ago, and a lot of people who saw that movie were talking about how Ray Liotta is in two or three scenes as this hot shit high priced L.A. divorce attorney and how he played his part to utter perfection. In hindsight, I do wish I mean, I wish he was given more to do in every movie he was in, but I do wish he was given maybe a little more to do so that, like Laura Dern, he could have I don't know, maybe some Oscar nomination talk could have been started because she ended up winning. So I don't know. He's still great in that, though. Still, he's perfect in his few scenes. And his his delivery and cadence are so funny to me. I mean, he's like rushing around that office, holding his glasses, cutting Adam Driver off Ray Liotta and Laura Dern were are still my favorite parts of that movie. No question. No sudden move. I already mentioned it. Steven Soderbergh is one of my top five films of 2021. I love this movie. Liotta is part of an ensemble cast and he's very memorable. Similarly, the Many Saints of Newark, where he's playing twin Maltasanti Brothers. I thought he was the best part of this movie, and him alone made watching the movie worth it. There's so many other movies I could go down. I'm just I'm looking at IMDB, looking at Wikipedia. I could keep going. That's you know, if you haven't seen any of those, I really endorse everything I just mentioned, even if it's something silly like turbulence that is, you know, silly. Even if it's something where he's not in it, much like killing them softly, you will not forget him in killing them softly. I still have some things to see, mostly as it's related to TV using this NBC show Shades of Blue with Jennifer Lopez there's three seasons that I've never watched it. I definitely will. Now, Hannah is on Amazon. I heard he's in the third season. That shows now I have to watch that I could talk about Ray Liotta all day. It's still fresh, it's still new. I'm still really this is not something that's been fully processed at all. I'm going to be going on Ray Liotta binges. Maybe we'll even talk about him a little more. I'm sure we will. Just in regular episodes, episodes that don't have anything to do with him. He's just going to be in my mind, a lot because I've been a fan of his since I've been a fan of movies. Top five, Ray Liotta. Why don't I try it? Why don't we do it? Number five? I'm going to go with something wild, mostly to get more people to see that one. That's one that, like people who know it, like some people say that's their favorite Jonathan Demme movie. Fair enough. A lot of people really, really love that movie. Just trying to give a little more love for that one. So go check it out. Number four, in Nick’s absence, I will give this to blow there's a lot going on in this performance that, you know, he's not the first, second or third lead of it. But from where it begins when he's, you know, young, he's got his construction crew to where it ends. It's you know, his final scene in the movie is, again, one you don't forget, like he's really, really nailing these endings. Number three, Figsy Cop land. Go see Cop land. He's so good in this. So good. He's the type of guy who's giving advice on how one should live their life, but not taking any of his advice himself is a great scene where he has to talk to himself. I think it's hard for actors to convincingly talk to themselves, even like in a mirror, he's yelling at himself in this one scene and he totally buy it. And that really informs what happens in the end. This is a Great movie, Cop land. Number two, Henry Oak, Narc. Oh, God. I mean, gritty. Joe Carnahan. This is by far my favorite Carnahan movie. Liotta, Jason Patric, what they're doing together and all the arcs that their characters take as individuals and together. It's a really, really good movie. It's a raw ass movie. You will know by minute three that you were in something very different and number one, yeah, it's Henry Hill. It's Goodfellas. As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. one of the great all time voiceovers, not just that line, of course, that line. But his whole thing, though, it's kind of like, you know, down here and he's kind of over it all. There's not much excitement. I just thought I could talk about him forever. Folks, I love Ray Liotta in terms of what are you watching? I'm going to be watching a lot of these. Just go watch a Ray Liotta movie. Let us know @WAYW_Podcast Thanks so much, everyone, for tuning in to this kind of emergency minisode. Nick and I talked about this. You know, we were we lose people. You know, it sucks. It sucks every time it's going to continue to happen. These people who've meant a lot to us and to me and my movie obsessed life and this one hits really hard. And, you know, I'm really going to miss not being able to see additional work from him. But I'm so thankful of the performances that we have and all the ones I talked about today. So please do let us know if you're watching any of these and if you're discovering them, what you like, what you re watching, what you like. As always, everyone, thanks so much for listening and happy watching.