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Tag Archive: Mel Brooks


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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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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Muppets Most Wanted

Admit it, you know it’s true.  You really can’t go wrong with the Muppets and especially a new Muppet movie.  Back to the original The Muppet Movie in 1979, which included an all-star human cast of cameos along with the main Muppet players, to the 2011 rejuvenation of the Muppets on the big screen in The Muppets, the Muppets are all-around good fun.  In 2014 the next Muppet film will be released, Muppets Most Wanted, and “sequel” is the emphasis of this first trailer for the movie just released this past week.

And if you love the original The Muppet Movie as much as we do (it scored #3 on my all-time best fantasy movie list we discussed here at borg.com last year), then you’ll not want to miss your chance to get the pre-release discount of more than eight dollars for The Muppet Movie: The Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition at Amazon.com.  But act fast since the release date is August 13, 2013, so you have a day to get your order in.

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bullwinkle_magic-hat

Peabody here.  Time to crank up the WABAC machine.

Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit of of my hat!
Again?  That trick never works.
Nothing up my sleeve… Presto!!!

IDW Publishing announced this weekend that they will team with DreamWorks Classics and Bullwinkle Studios to bring Jay Ward’s classic squirrel and moose Rocky & Bullwinkle, the genius dog Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman, Russian spies Boris & Natasha, and Canadian mountie Dudley Do-Right and possibly the rest of the Jay Ward arsenal to new comic book series.  IDW also said it will be reprinting these characters’ stories that have not been in print for years.

peabody-sherman

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Django Unchained - Still A

By C.J. Bunce

How does a Western get nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in 2013? As recently as two years ago the remake of True Grit was nominated for Best Picture and nine other nominations—but did not net a single win.  But would it have been nominated if it hadn’t been directed by the quirky directing duo of Joel and Ethan Coen?  Five years earlier Brokeback Mountain, a film with a Western—or at least a cowboy– theme was also nominated for Best Picture, winning three of eight nominations.  It took director Ang Lee and a completely non-Western plot for that to happen.  Then you have to go back to Unforgiven in 1992, which actually won Best Picture and four of nine of its nominations, to find the last major, critically acclaimed Western.

What made Unforgiven win?  Certainly by supplying one of the two most popular Western actors of all time as the film’s lead helped, even if it was one of his more bland performances, with Clint Eastwood also serving as director. (Yes, John Wayne still remains the #1 most popular Western actor ever).  But more importantly, like the few notable Westerns since, it had a very non-standard plot for a Western.  With its gunfighter-turns-farmer-turns-gunfighter-one-last-time story, it was basically a dark sequel to John Wayne’s Angel and the Badman.  You could keep going—back to Dances with Wolves in 1990, an example of the “epic Western” which seemed to reward the director and acting efforts of rising star Kevin Costner more than the movie as a Western genre masterpiece.  Or back to Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid in 1969, probably the last classic era Western to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, winning five awards, including a key win for the script by William Goldman.  Then go back to the also-quirky Cat Ballou in 1965 starring Jane Fonda—the rare Western notable for featuring a female lead.

Going back even further gets you into the classic era of Westerns, and throws you into the strange era of “epic Westerns” getting recognized by the Academy.  These were movies that in hindsight are really not as well done as many smaller pictures of the period, but their huge all-star casts and expensive sets made the films hard to ignore, such as How the West Was Won, The Alamo, and Giant.  Surprisingly you have to look back to the adaptation of Louis L’Amour’s Hondo starring John Wayne in 1953 to get back to the era of the “hero Western” as recipient of an Academy nod, a film up there with Shane and High Noon as successful and admired Westerns receiving acclaim by the Academy.

Schultz and Django

But if you put aside the classic Western and look at what has been selected by the Academy since the 1960s it makes a lot of sense that Quentin Tarentino’s Django Unchained is not only a Best Picture nominee this year, but a real contender for the win.  Set in the South two years before the Civil War, the film follows a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) whose past owners lead him to meet up with German-born, dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).  Schultz’s next target is the wanted-dead-or-alive Brittle brothers, and only Django can help him literally recognize his bounty.  Schultz serves as mentor in survival and pursuit skills for Django who is squarely focused on rescuing long-lost wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).  The search ultimately leads to a more complicated than necessary scheme to buy Broomhilda from infamous plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), if only his loyal house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) will not stand in the way.

So what is the formula for a successful Western in the 21st century and why should Django Unchained make the cut?

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