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Tag Archive: Gene Wilder


Review by C.J. Bunce

You probably haven’t had this much fun watching a rollicking fantasy movie this cool since you first saw the 1980 Flash Gordon movie starring Sam Jones, Max Von Sydow, Melody Anderson, Timothy Dalton, and Brian Blessed, accompanied by that memorable Queen soundtrack.  It shouldn’t be hard to believe–seven weeks from its premiere and Thor: Ragnarok continues to sell-out theater screenings across the country.  In a year full of so many comic book adaptations, and great ones at that, from Logan and Logan Noir to Spider-man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and even The LEGO Batman Movie, this was a great year for comic books on film.  But Thor: Ragnarok rivaled them all from an entertainment standpoint.  In many ways Thor: Ragnarok is a natural progression from both the past Thor films and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.  But something about director Taika Waititi’s vision for Avengers Thor and Hulk in this latest film changed how the MCU can entertain.  Instead of focusing on the events that the earlier Marvel entries–and comic books–are best known for, events like Civil War, Waititi returned to the reason we all turn to superheroes for entertainment:  it’s because we like the characters.  The end of the world is coming for Asgard, three great villains are wreaking havoc for our heroes, but Taikiki does something novel.  He puts the setting where it belongs: in the background.  And so we get closer to Thor, Hulk, Loki, Valkyrie, and even Thor and Loki’s sister Hela, by watching them interact.  The result is a film that should be vying for the top spot with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Logan, and Spider-man: Homecoming, on your comic book movie best-of shortlist.

Waititi really accomplished something difficult here.  It’s not often the third film in a series completely exceeds the prior films (although it’s certainly arguable Spider-man: Homecoming trounced four prior Spider-man movies).  The Incredible Hulk and Hulk were hardly comparable to Thor: Ragnarok as a Hulk movie (sans title only).  And Thor and Thor: The Dark World weren’t remotely as memorable as Thor: Ragnarok.  So what made it all come together?  Clever dialogue from a tight script for one.  And each actor needed no time to take their characters and march forward.  Chris Hemsworth’s cocky God of Thunder has always sported a humorous side, but partnered with Tom Hiddleston’s on-again, off-again baddie Loki, and a Bruce Banner after he’s stuck in “Hulk mode” for two years (played by Mark Ruffalo), Thor: Ragnarok is every bit the next Avengers team-up film–it may as well be called Avengers: Ragnarok.  It’s also a buddy comedy.  Why not?  In the comic books the serious and powerful characters of Hulk and Thor have always been less accessible than the rest so how better to reach audiences?  And why not take that most-comic book of tropes and let them have their hero battle in the ring?  Many comic book readers have been waiting for this film for a long time.

The entire art design and sound should be credited with the film’s success, too.  Classic Jack Kirby imagery and style can be found throughout the production design.  Funky psychedelic colors, lights, and imagery make this a fantasy film, as opposed to a superhero or sci-fi movie.  Action choreography appears like it’s torn from the panels of a comic book page.  Dazzling fantasy costumes by Mayes C. Rubeo (The Great Wall, John Carter, Avatar, The Librarian) include Cate Blanchett’s Hela destroyer outfit, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie/Scrapper 142 outfit, Idris Elba’s Heimdall in Robin Hood garb, and Karl Urban’s iridescent Scurge armor.  Music by Mark Mothersbaugh (The LEGO Movie, Lords of Dogtown, Fanboys, 21 Jump Street) includes audacious, sometimes triumphant, sometimes hilarious choices.  And Magic Sword’s “In the Face of Evil,” Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, were simply inspired inclusions that made the characters and film exactly how we want these characters to look and feel: Cool.

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young-frankenstein-2

Universally acknowledged as one of the best comedy, parody, science fiction, and monster movies of all time, Young Frankenstein is back tonight for one showing in theaters across the country.  Following on this past August’s news of Gene Wilder’s death, this month’s release of the first major behind-the-scenes look at the film (previewed here at borg.com), and being the prime month for monster movies, it’s the perfect time to view Young Frankenstein like audiences did when it premiered back in 1974.

Even as a young kid I laughed out loud at the Mel Brooks classic, whether I knew the meaning of all the jokes or not–it’s one of those films with clever writing that results in good fun for all audiences.  Five years ago this month it made my top 10 list of best films for Halloween viewing.  My own nephews are big fans as well–the humor still holds up more than four decades later.  And, heck, Peter Boyle’s monster is even in our own borg.com Hall of Fame!
If you go, be prepared to witness a dream team of comedy: Actors no longer with us including Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, and Boyle, and those still with us, including the great Cloris Leachman and Teri Garr, all at the top of their game.  Plus a bonus–one of the best cameos ever–by Gene Hackman.
young-frankenstein-in-theaters-october-2016
So what are you waiting for?

Stir Crazy

The borg.com flag is flying at half staff today in honor of Gene Wilder, one of America’s finest comedy actors.  He passed away at 83 years old yesterday in Connecticut.  We all benefitted through his unique style of humor, often playing the straight man stuck in outrageous circumstances.  He may very well be America’s best comedic actor, as demonstrated by his starring role in three of the top thirteen comedies on the American Film Institute’s list of the funniest movies of all time (Blazing Saddles at #6, The Producers at #11, and Young Frankenstein at #13).  And a fourth, Silver Streak, was listed as #95.  Also, nominated?  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Stir Crazy, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.  Basically every film he was known well for was pure comedic gold.

Wilder’s breakthrough performance was as an unassuming fellow in the wrong place at the wrong time in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), one of the AFI’s top 50 films of all time.  His partnership with Mel Brooks was legendary, arguably producing the films he will always be best known for:  The Producers (1967), Blazing Saddles (1974), and Young Frankenstein (1974).  But you can’t stop there.  There are his films directed by Arthur Hiller (who died earlier this month): Silver Streak (1976) and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989).  And he directed himself and familiar circle of comedic actors in films like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975), The World’s Greatest Lover (1977), The Woman in Red (1984), and Haunted Honeymoon (1986) with wife Gilda Radner.  And he has become a fixture with two generations of children as Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971).

Wilder gif

He worked with all sorts of familiar names, starring in Funny About Love (1990) directed by Leonard Nimoy, and co-starred with Harrison Ford in The Frisco Kid (1979).  He worked under director Sydney Poitier in two films, Stir Crazy (1980) and Hanky Panky (1982), also with Radner.  Wilder’s films with Richard Pryor are practically their own sub-genre of comedy.  They worked together in Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Another You (1991).  But it doesn’t stop there.

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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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Blade Runner one-sheet John Alvin   Young Frankenstein one-sheet John Alvin

Back in early 2012 we reviewed one of several books released on movie poster artist Drew Struzan, a useful and interesting resource called The Art of Drew Struzan, reviewed here.  It chronicles the best of painted motion picture advertising one-sheets that Struzan created, and even more enlightening, includes commentary by Struzan about his process and the politics and business of his years of leading the craft.  The picture he painted wasn’t pretty, but despite his own roadblocks he is generally thought of as the best motion picture poster artist of the last 50 years.

Along with Struzan, another poster artist created posters that often could be confused for Struzan’s.  That was the late poster artist John Alvin.  Unfortunately Alvin did not document his own personal account of his creative and professional experiences, but his wife Andrea has put together a book that at least documents his most popular work, released this month by Titan Books as The Art of John Alvin What we don’t know from any of the books we’ve reviewed on poster artists is how they might have competed for work over the years.  Andrea Alvin makes no mention of Struzan, but seems to indicate Alvin was able to keep a nice niche of clients over the years, ranging from the decision-makers behind the movies of Mel Brooks, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, and the renaissance of animated Disney blockbusters.

ET one-sheet John Alvin   Empire of the Sun one-sheet John Alvin

Alvin’s work seems far more commercial compared to the paintings of Struzan, as can be seen in Alvin’s posters for Empire of the Sun (1987), Cape Fear (1991), Batman Returns (1992), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), and Batman Forever (1995).  But that doesn’t mean they were any less effective at drawing moviegoers to the theater, the entire point of the poster.  The one-sheet for Empire of the Sun is often seen as one of the most memorable images in the history of movie posters.

The power of much of Alvin’s posters is the simplicity.  In 1982 when the public first learned of a movie called E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, the only thing we knew was a newspaper ad showing a wrinkled alien hand touching the hand of a kid, inspired by Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam.  His teaser poster was equally as effective—never did these pictures show E.T. himself.  Those same images were reproduced on movie posters, cardboard standees, and eventually all over picture books sold via school book orders.  Simple images, but lasting images, and what they didn’t show was part of the enticement to reel in an audience.

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