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    The Prolific Mr. Penn

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    As he turns 56 today, Sean Penn remains busy on several fronts. As an activist actor, he’s playing an animated version of himself in an upcoming 15th season episode of the Seth MacFarlane-created Fox series Family Guy entitled Hot Spots, dealing with the hot-button topic of child vaccinations. As an activist director, his latest feature film The Last Face, starring Charlize Theron, Javier Bardem, Jared Harris and Jean Reno, premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival to mixed reviews and awaits a domestic distribution deal at this writing. As an activist artist in general, he will receive the second Peace and Justice Award at the eighth annual Artists for Peace and Justice benefit gala taking place on September 11 during the 2016 Toronto Film Festival, citing his extensive humanitarian work on the recovery of Haiti following the devastation wrought there by a catastrophic 2010 earthquake. As an actor for hire, he’ll also start work next month with co-star Mel Gibson on the new film The Professor and the Madman. Gibson plays Professor James Murray, who began compiling the Oxford English Dictionary in 1857 and led the overseeing committee, while Penn will portray Dr. William Chester Minor, who submitted more than 10,000 entries while he was an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. The two-time Academy Award® winner for Mystic River and Milk has a full plate of fine legacy work in the Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray library, with three fabulous performances for top-tier filmmakers in dramatically and visually powerful titles. At Close Range (1986), directed by James Foley, is the dark, sinister and true-events-inspired cautionary tale of a criminal father (Christopher Walken) who enmeshes his wayward sons (brothers Sean and Christopher Penn) in murderous criminal activities in rural Pennsylvania, a bracingly acted tale of uneasy dread and bloody retribution that’s simultaneously hard and spellbinding to watch. State of Grace (1990), from director Phil Joanou, finds Penn walking the razor’s edge as an ex-gang member turned police infiltrator who joins up with the Irish Westies gang in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in order to bring it down from within, including its cool-headed but unsteady chieftain (Ed Harris) and Penn’s lifelong pal, a hopelessly hot-wired, maniacal triggerman (Gary Oldman). U Turn (1997), shephered by the formidable Oliver Stone (whose eagerly awaited Snowden opens theatrically September 16), plunks down small-time grifter Penn in an Arizona backwater straight out of Dante’s Inferno, where he may just be the sanest character among the most colorful coterie of scheming eccentrics (played by Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Voight, Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes) ever assembled for a white-hot, noir-like rumble in the desert. Any or all three of these titles, boasting terrific commentaries from their respective directors that illuminate the process of working with Penn, show us the many sides of a fiercely committed and terrifically talented movie icon worth celebrating everyday, with or without birthday trimmings.