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Tag Archive: American Film Institute


Seven years ago the writers at borg came up with our top ten favorite fantasy movies (take a look at my list here).  I’m happy to see that my list hasn’t changed much.  Two of my top ten fantasy movies are returning to theaters nationwide for limited showings.  First, Field of Dreams (my #6 favorite), is back next week, followed in July by The Muppet Movie (my #3 favorite).  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Field of Dreams will be in theaters for Fathers’ Day, an opportunity to share the ultimate story of believing in yourself and trusting your instincts with a new generation.  It’s scheduled to appear at more than 600 theaters.  Then celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Muppet Movie, Fathom Events is partnering with The Jim Henson Company and Universal Pictures to show the classic big-screen debut of the Muppets on more than 700 screens nationwide.

Fathom Events joins Universal Pictures and Turner Classic Movies to bring Field of Dreams to theaters Sunday, June 16, for showings at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. local time, and Tuesday, June 18, at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time.  Director Phil Alden Robinson′s re-write of W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe (reviewed here at borg), features three of cinema’s most fantastic characters coming together: reclusive author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), baseball player Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster and Frank Whaley) and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson (Ray Liotta).  It was nominated for six–and made three–of the American Film Institute’s lists of the top American films of all time, including being named the all-time #6 top fantasy film.

For two days only this July, The Muppet Movie returns with screenings on Thursday, July 25, and Tuesday, July 30.  The Muppet Movie will play at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (local time) each day.  Following the international success of the television show The Muppet Show, which at its peak aired in more than 100 countries, Muppets creator Jim Henson took a creative risk to have the characters star in their first motion picture.  The result, directed by James Frawley, became a box-office hit, starring Kermit (performed by Henson), Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear (performed by Frank Oz), Gonzo (performed by Dave Goelz) and his chicken Camilla (performed by Jerry Nelson), Scooter (performed by Richard Hunt), and dozens of other favorite characters.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s February, and for sports fans that can mean only one thing: Baseball is just around the corner.  Spring training is only a few weeks away, so why not get into the mindset for the game with a look back to a modern classic, W.P. Kinsella′s novel Shoeless Joe First published in 1982 and originally titled The Dream Field, Kinsella’s novel didn’t debut to overwhelming acclaim in the U.S., although it won the author the 1982 “Books in Canada First Novel Award.”  Kinsella had been writing about the Black Sox, the famous White Sox team that threw the World Series in 1919, and while attending the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop he decided to incorporate that event into a fantasy about Shoeless Joe Jackson returning to Iowa to play ball again.  The result is what you might call the Great American Novel of the 1980s, now with a legion of fans devoted to the story.  The novel includes two major character threads that were excised for the 1989 classic, Field of Dreams, a film that has been named to the Library of Congress as one of the greatest American films of all time, as well as included on two American Film Institute Top 100 lists, nominated for three others, and named the AFI #6 best fantasy film of all time.  The book and film are equally superb for different reasons.  The film is one of the finest attempts at magical realism on the silver screen, and the magic is at the core of the novel.  In the original Kinsella went further than the film, delving into why American love for baseball transcends other sports and pastimes, and he takes readers on an adventure into the intricacies of relationships and human nature.

Shoeless Joe follows Ray Kinsella, one of a set of twin brothers whose father died many years ago.  In their teens Ray’s brother Richard gets into an argument with his father and leaves home.  Ray gets married, settles in Iowa City and has a daughter named Karin.  He begins a life selling insurance, but one day he encounters an elderly man who starts talking baseball with him as he’s walking along the streets of Iowa City.  Ray learns that the man, named Eddie Scissons, is the oldest living Chicago Cubs player, and soon strikes up a friendship, ultimately leasing a farm the man can no longer work.  The next piece is familiar to moviegoers: Ray hears a voice from the corn, “If you build it he will come,” and understands it to mean he needs to build a left field for Shoeless Joe to return and play baseball again.  Ray levels the corn field, and Joe arrives.  Unlike the film, this happens over several months.  And there’s more: the voice directs Ray cryptically again, this time with the plea, “Ease his pain.”  Ray knows the message to mean he must go to find the reclusive The Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger and take him to a baseball game.  Kinsella, the author, used the living Salinger as a character, but the author didn’t want his name used so the role was altered to the fictional writer Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones) for the film.  Research by the studio determined potential audiences of the time were no longer familiar with Salinger and the swap did not affect the film.

But Kinsella had reasons to use Salinger in his novel, as Salinger had used two characters with Kinsella’s last name in different works in real life, hence Kinsella’s real-life fascination with Salinger, and the use of Ray and Richard in Shoeless Joe Unlike the film, whose key points are getting Shoeless Joe, Archie Graham, the famous author, and Kinsella′s father to come to the field, the key point of Shoeless Joe is getting Joe to the field in the first part of the story, but the pinnacle is getting Salinger to reveal his love of baseball, to go into the field, to learn what really lies in The Great Beyond, and hopefully return with a new novel for his fans after the many years of not writing.  In reality Salinger stopped publishing, but he didn’t quit writing, all the way to his death in 2010.  This week his heirs announced for the first time they would be releasing several of Salinger’s unpublished works after 2020 and over the next 10 years.

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It’s one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest and most celebrated films.  Pairing Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, Hitchcock explored the ultimate con, the perfect murder, and a hopeless love story.  In Hitchcock’s stylish 1958 film Vertigo, the director also paints one of the most beautiful travelogues for the San Francisco Bay area.  The American Film Institute has declared it the all-time best mystery, the #12 best film score, the #18 best romance, the #18 best thriller, and the ninth best movie of all American films.  Over the years international critics’ polls have seen Vertigo move back and forth with Citizen Kane for the designation of best film of all time.  Celebrated directors François Truffaut and Martin Scorcese have heralded the film.  Vertigo is also the only film that featured Hitchcock himself as a trumpet player–you’ll just need to keep a watchful eye for his cameo.  And you can do that this weekend, as Vertigo is returning to theaters nationwide for two days to celebrate its 60th anniversary beginning this Sunday, March 18, 2018, as part of Turner Classic Movies, Universal Pictures and Fathom Events’ retrospective screenings of film classics.

Even more so than Otto Preminger’s haunting 1944 film Laura, Vertigo delves into obsession like no other film.  Stewart’s take on an ex-cop observing the beautiful wife of an old friend at that friend’s request is a character far removed from any other role Stewart had ever taken on.  And Novak really plays two women as the film is cracked into two halves–one a dangerous and enigmatic stranger, the other a young romantic from Salina, Kansas, trying to escape the decisions of her past.  You, too, will find it hard pressed to avoid becoming obsessed with the film (I’ve seen it at least twice in theaters and dozens of times on home video over the decades).

Behind the scenes film aficionados will appreciate that Vertigo was the first film to use the dolly zoom, the camera taking the dolly out while zooming in, thereby creating the dizzying vertigo effect throughout the movie.  John Whitney used an M5 gun director–an actual World War II anti-tank firing predictor, along with famed graphic designer Saul Bass’s spiral motifs, to create the film’s unusual opening title sequence.  Edith Head’s spectacular designs were behind Novak and Stewart’s memorable wardrobes.  The film was nominated for two Oscars, George Dutton for sound, and Hal Pereira, Henry Bumstead, Sam Comer, and Frank R. McKelvy for Art Decoration/Set Decoration.

But probably most significantly for the ambience of the film, Bernard Hermann’s score is one of Hollywood’s finest, and Martin Scorcese summed up the music his way:  “Hitchcock’s film is about obsession, which means that it’s about circling back to the same moment, again and again…  And the music is also built around spirals and circles, fulfilment and despair.  Herrmann really understood what Hitchcock was going for — he wanted to penetrate to the heart of obsession.”  Years later the 2011 Oscar winner for best picture The Artist would use the spiraling love theme from Vertigo to achieve the emotion needed for its key scene.

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Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies has just revealed the titles of 13 classic movies that will return to cinemas across the country during the yearlong 2018 TCM Big Screen Classics series.  They are (drumroll, please!):

January:  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre — “Badges? … I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”  John Huston directs Humphrey Bogart and father Walter Huston.  On the National Film Registry and *six* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

February:  The Philadelphia StoryGeorge Cukor directs Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart in the classic romance comedy.  On the National Film Registry and *seven* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

March:  VertigoJimmy Stewart and Kim Novak star in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best thrillers.   On the National Film Registry and *six* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

April:  Grease The favorite musical of the 1970s with the bestselling soundtrack.  On *seven* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

May:  Sunset BoulevardGet ready for your close-up!  Billy Wilder’s creepy noir mystery starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson.  On the National Film Registry and *four* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

June:  The Producers — Mel Brooks directs Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, and Kenneth Mars in the classic comedy.  On the National Film Registry and *two* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

July:  Big — Okay, but I get to be on top.  Pull out your FAO Schwarz floor keyboard.  Penny Marshall directs Tom Hanks in the fantasy coming of age classic.  On *five* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

August: The Big Lebowski — The Coen Brothers direct Jeff “The Dude” Bridges and an all-star cast in the fan fave, cult classic, crime comedy.

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Last week The Princess Bride turned 30 and it returned to theaters this week as part of the Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies partnership (more classics are on their way to your local theater so keep an eye on the Fathom Events website for updates).  We’re big fans of The Princess Bride here at borg.com–more than five years ago it made 3 of our 4 lists of all-time favorite fantasy films.  This week’s screenings included Ben Mankiewicz interviewing director and producer Rob Reiner, and what shines through is Reiner’s enthusiasm for the film, three decades later.  He’s had several hits, from This is Spinal Tap to A Few Good Men, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and The American President, and more, and now in theaters is his latest–LBJ.  But so few films are beloved like The Princess Bride.

Why does it work so well?  Part of the film’s success is due to its sincerity.  It’s true to its source material, William Goldman’s novel The Princess Bride–the favorite of the author’s works.  Reiner tells a story of the difficulty in getting novelist William Goldman to sign over the film rights.  After countless big names were denied, Reiner was successful by agreeing simply not to change the story.  Goldman, who won Oscars for his screenplays to All the President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, also penned the film adaptation, further ensuring his original vision.  The story is bookended as only a fairy tale could be told (with a few interruptions) by Peter Falk’s Grandpa and Fred Savage’s Grandson, just having storytime.  The Grandson’s 1980s room provides plenty of nostalgia for kids from the period–a “Refrigerator” Perry poster, a Cubs pennant, Burger King The Empire Strikes Back drinking glass, He-Man action figures–this Chicago kid had a fun room.  But the family bonding is the thing–an old book keeping a story that bridges generations, inside the movie and out, told by an old man with glasses, gray hair, and a fedora.  And the story is sweet and about love–nothing in the movie is embarrassing or gross or disturbing–it’s safe territory to kick back and have a good time–for everyone.

Rob Reiner’s humor must also be a big component of the film’s success and appeal.  His choices, his casting, his own humor comes through, no doubt influenced by a lifetime in film thanks to his comedy dad Carl Reiner.  Carl belonged to that classic comedy school that also includes Mel Brooks.  It’s Brooks’ Young Frankenstein that The Princess Bride reminded me of the most in the theater.  What Young Frankenstein was to classic monster movies, The Princess Bride was for the fantasy film genre.  Is The Princess Bride a parody?  It doesn’t have those obvious, direct ties to specific classic scenes like Young Frankenstein, but it’s an homage to several–from Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood to Zorro and from Ivanhoe to Captain Blood and Sleeping Beauty.  The Pit of Despair, where Cary Elwes’s Dread Pirate Roberts is tortured, looks as if it could have been designed by the same crew as the laboratory set in Young Frankenstein (it didn’t but it did share its set designer–Richard Holland–with fantasy classics Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal).  But Rob Reiner’s humor is his own.  He never sits on a joke like the old masters of Hollywood comedy.  He leaves a laugh and keeps moving, which keeps in step with classic fantasyland storytelling.  You can laugh but the goal is the goal:  Rescue the Princess!

The classic archetypes are there: the Princess (Robin Wright), the Farmboy Hero (Elwes), the Three Woodsmen (Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant), a Wizard (Billy Crystal), a Crone (Carol Kane), an Albino (Mel Smith), and plenty of Villains including the Evil King (Chris Sarandon)–with a classic “rescue the Princess” plot.  But the movie is also unique.  What else has Rodents of Unusual Size?  The accents of Wallace Shawn as Vizzini and Peter Cook as the Impressive Clergyman?  An ad-libbing Billy Crystal partnered with a wonderfully badgering Carol Kane (Humperdinck! Humperdinck!)?  A real giant?  Two brave, swashbuckling heroes and two key villains (don’t forget Christopher Guest’s Count Rugen).  And the quotable lines!  It surely has as many big lines as Caddyshack: As you wish… My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my Father.  Prepare to die… Never get involved in a land war in Asia!…  Inconceivable!…  I do not think that word means what you think it means… Mawwiage! … And an endless litany of “boo”s.  The Pit of Despair!  The Cliffs of Insanity!

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1959.  A gallon of gas cost a quarter.  Movie tickets were a dollar and color was replacing black and white film.  You could buy a new car for $2,000.  In technology the Soviets beat the United States to the Moon, with a hitch, crashing their Luna 2 spacecraft into the lunar surface.  The U.S. selected seven astronauts for their Mercury space program.  Xerox began selling copiers to companies, IBM made headway with its mainframe computer, and Jack Kilby invented the microchip.  Kids first began playing with Play-doh, Etch-a-Sketch, and Barbie dolls.  On one end of the country The Sound of Music opened on Broadway and everywhere music fans faced the day the music died.  The world first witnessed The Twilight Zone.  The gray flannel suit defined the businessman.  And in 1959 the great filmmaker Billy Wilder produced and directed his own screenplay and the film would become the best reviewed comedy of all time, pegging the number one spot on the American Film Institute’s registry of best American comedies.  The film was Some Like It Hot.  And it’s back in theaters this weekend for a limited release.

Some Like It Hot has it all.  Marilyn Monroe in arguably her best performance.  Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon only at the beginning of their long and distinguished careers.  The movie doesn’t take place in 1959–it is set 30 years earlier in the heyday of speakeasies and Depression era mobs.  Tony Curtis is Joe, a ladies’ man and gambler–the sax player.  Jack Lemmon is Jerry, a straight arrow–the double-bass player.  They play in a band in a speakeasy (disguised as a funeral home) run by mob boss “Spats” Colombo (George Raft).  When Joe and Jerry accidentally witness a Valentine’s Day massacre-inspired mob hit, they must go on the run.  They find an all-female band heading to Miami via train and disguise themselves as the original bosom buddies, Josephine and Daphne, befriending the band’s gorgeous and upbeat lead singer and ukulele player, Sugar Kane, played by Marilyn Monroe.  That’s where the laughs begin, and a back-up cast of classic Hollywood staples, including Pat O’Brien and Joe E. Brown, fill in the gaps.

    

Despite the popularity of color film, Wilder shot Some Like It Hot in a steamy black and white.  Wilder had already directed Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, so the pairing was an obvious fit.  Wilder and Lemmon would start a partnership that lasted until 1981.  Wilder was the true King of Comedy.  He worked on nothing but hit movies over the course of his career–serious stuff like Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, The Spirit of St. Louis, and Witness for the Prosecution, in addition to comedies including Sabrina, The Seven Year Itch, The Apartment, Ocean’s 11, Irma la Douce, The Fortune Cookie, and Casino Royale.

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Young Frankenstein clip

Mel Brooks is finally letting us peek behind the curtain of the original cyborg send-up.  Forty-two years after its release Young Frankenstein is still a classic–a horror comedy like no other.  An homage that is every bit as cinematic in quality as its source material, Young Frankenstein is coming to a bookstore near you.

Young Frankenstein: The Story of the Making of the Film is Mel Brooks’ own look back at the film he was the most proud of.  Full of anecdotes and more than 225 photos, many rarely seen, plus cast interviews, this new work will be a must read for Mel Brooks fans.

Brooks is of course a comedy genius.  Three of Brooks’ films have been featured on the American Film Institute’s 100 best comedies of all-time: Blazing Saddles at number 6, The Producers at number 11, and Young Frankenstein at number 13.  Brooks is also famous for The Twelve ChairsSilent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World, Part I, Spaceballs, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

Young Frankenstein book

Young Frankenstein starred a dream team of comedic actors: Gene Wilder, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, and the late Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle, and Marty Feldman.  And Gene Hackman.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

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John Williams conducting Star Wars

Few individuals have stood apart from their peers in their professional endeavors as much as maestro John Williams.  Last week the American Film Institute presented Williams with its life achievement award, the 44th awarded and first for a composer.  It’s certainly about time.  With five Academy Award wins and 50 nominations, Williams holds the record for the most Oscar nominations of any living person.  Three of his scores, for Star Wars, Jaws, and E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, are on AFI’s list of the top 25 scores of all time.  This Wednesday night the AFI award event will be televised, and guests honoring Williams include George Lucas, Steven Spielberg–both who owe the most to Williams for their individual successes–as well as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Drew Barrymore, Tom Hanks, Itzhak Perlman, J.J. Abrams, Bryce Dallas Howard, Will Farrell, Steve Martin, Seth McFarlane, and Daisy Ridley.

You may not remember the first time you heard a familiar tune from Williams, but for those more than 40 years old it was no doubt the theme from television’s Lost in Space series, featuring an end credit to “Johnny” Williams.  He also provided the piano music for the Academy Award winning, and AFI recognized comedy Some Like it Hot.  For everyone since then you can define your generation by your earliest familiarity with his music, whether it’s the Main Title to Star Wars, the Jurassic Park theme, or the theme to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Those whose introduction to Williams was Star Wars: The Force Awakens have plenty of great music to discover.

Williams is of a rare breed of American composer whose songs stick with you forever.  He’s in an elite club with the likes of musicians Aaron Copland, John Philip Sousa, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin.  For more than 60 years Williams has set the bar for–and defined worldwide for moviegoers’ ears–our expectation for modern programmatic movie music.

John Williams

Stepping aside from his success at major memorable themes, one of his greatest skills is his juxtaposition of opposites.  Just listen in the Jaws soundtrack to the busy streets of Amity in the “Montage” and the cheery adventure theme from “The Great Shark Chase” among his well-known bass horror cues.  Some of his most brilliant compositions are tucked away behind giant, epic scores, like “The Asteroid Field” from The Empire Strikes Back and “Escape from Venice” from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  And would modern audiences even know a march beyond nationalistic music if not for “The Superman March,” “The Raiders of the Lost Ark March,” “The March from 1941,” and “The Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back? 

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Planet of the Apes movie poster

Those original “damned, dirty apes” that launched a nearly 50-year franchise that shows no signs of stopping are coming back to the big screen this summer for a limited screening release.  Fathom Events is partnering once again with Turner Classic Movies and Twentieth Century Fox to bring Planet of the Apes to your local theater.  Astronaut Taylor, played by Charlton Heston, and the best apes of the movie series, Roddy McDowell’s Cornelius and Kim Hunter’s Zira, will dazzle once again in what the American Film Institute has voted to their best sci-fi/fantasy Top 100 list as the #59 most thrilling movie of all time, with one of the top twelve film scores–by the master composer Jerry Goldsmith–of any genre, ever.

If you haven’t seen the original, be prepared for one of the best pay-offs in all of science fiction.  Oh, and that quote… although we think we hear Heston call ’em “damn, dirty apes” we appreciate the AFI correcting the grammar to “damned, dirty apes,” listing Heston’s line as the #66 most memorable movie quote of all time.

Old Planet of Apes 1968 poster

As usual, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz will provide a contextual introduction to the film.  Here are the dates, details, and how to get tickets for one of four local screenings:

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Terminator Genisys poster

Just like Arnold Schwarzenegger promised in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he’s ba-ack, starring in another Terminator film.  It’s the fifth movie in the series: Terminator Genisys, and yesterday Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures released a teaser for a trailer to be released later today.

The studios also released a digital poster showing Arnold’s famous cyborg, and you can watch it here:

Arnold’s Terminator has the rare distinction of being on both the American Film Institute’s Best Villains (for Terminator) and Best Heroes lists (for Terminator 2).

Busy as the Governator of California, other than brief glimpses of his image as the chiseled cyborg, Schwarzenegger did not make appearances in either Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), or the fourth film, starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington, Terminator Salvation (2009).

Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor

Okay, maybe Emilia Clarke does look a bit like a young Linda Hamilton.

Terminator: Genisys has an impressive list of genre actors in addition to Arnold:  Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Jason Clarke, Jack Reacher’s Jai Courtney, Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, RED 2 and G.I. Joe’s Byung-hun Lee, The Hunt for Red October’s Courtney B. Vance, and Law and Order and Spider-man’s J.K. Simmons.

After the break check out the teaser for Terminator: Genisys:

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