Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Essential Gene Wilder

GENE WILDER
1933-2016

On August 29, 2016 the world lost one of its most cherished comedic actors when Gene Wilder passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer's. Wilder briefly appeared in Bonnie and Clyde in a small role before appearing in his first major role in The Producers. A staple of the classic Mel Brooks comedies like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Wilder also went on to entertain generations of children in his titular portrayal of Willy Wonka. Wilder also starred in several blockbuster comedies with his friend and on-screen partner Richard Pryor. Wilder had been out of the spotlight for over a decade, with his last on screen appearance in a guest role on the hit sitcom "Will & Grace" in 2003, for which he won an Emmy. Gene Wilder will go down in the history books as one of the best. He will be missed.

THE PRODUCERS
1967
Directed by Mel Brooks

Wilder first caught audiences attention with his first major role as Leo Bloom in Mel Brooks' hilarious Broadway spoof, The Producers. Wilder's comedic performance was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 1968 Academy Awards. In the film, Leo is a straight-arrow accountant suckered into a money-making scheme with sleezy producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel). The con? Sell multiple claims to a tasteless musical, "Springtime for Hitler", to old rich ladies. When the play surely fails on its first night, they won't be obligated to pay back their benefactors. Much to their horror, the play becomes an instant success. The film went on to become its own Broadway musical, which was later adapted again in 2005 as a motion picture starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane.

I'm in pain and I'm wet and I'm still hysterical!

WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
1971
Directed by Mel Stuart

In perhaps his most cherished role, Wilder plays the eccentric owner of the titular chocolate factory in this adaptation of Roald Dahl's beloved children's book. In a nationwide contest, the Wonka company places 5 "golden tickets" randomly into chocolate bars. Whoever finds one gets to visit the mysterious chocolate factory for a strange and magical tour. Among the families on the tour are four horribly naughty children and one good hearted child, Charlie Bucket. The children are introduced to the wildly eccentric Willy Wonka, who, as he leads them on the tour, has little surprises for each of the misbehaving children. Charlie, of course, makes it to the end without incident, but what will his prize be? Wilder was nominated for a Best Actor (Musical/Comedy) Golden Globe and this film, while living in the hearts of adults and children everywhere, was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2011. The film was later remade in 2005, to less success, with Johnny Depp in the Wonka role.

So shines a good deed in a weary world.

BLAZING SADDLES
1974
Directed by Mel Brooks

Hedy Lamar, a corrupt political boss in a small western town appoints a black man as sheriff, with the intent of having him fail for his own nefarious deeds. Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) realizes there's a frame-up and enlists the aid of legendary gunfighter, The Waco Kid (some call him... Jim) as his deputy. The two work to reverse the townspeople's hostile (and racist) opinion of Bart, befriend the giant Mongo and turn back Hedy Lamar's henchman at every turn. The film devolves into meta chaos during the over-the-top finale that still holds up today. Wilder plays The Waco Kid as both comedic and as a gunfighter to be taken seriously. Perhaps the funniest film in both Wilder AND Brooks' filmography, Blazing Saddles themes on racism are still sadly relevant today.

What did you expect? "Welcome, sonny"? "Make yourself at home"? "Marry my daughter"? You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
1974
Directed by Mel Brooks

This send up of the classic 1930s Universal monster movies, also came out the same year as Blazing Saddles. Not just one Wilder/Brooks collaboration, but TWO in one year. And both end up essential becoming comedy classics. In this film, Wilder plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced "Fronk-En-Steen") the grandson of the infamous mad scientist of the same name, who is trying to erase the shame from his family's name. He travels to Transylvania, where he stumbles upon the process on which to re-animated the dead... which he does to hilarious result. The highlight of the film being when the Doctor and his Monster (Peter Boyle) do a tap routine to "Puttin' on the Ritz."  Wilder received an Academy Award nomination for writing on this production.

 My grandfather's work was doodoo! I am not interested in death! The only thing that concerns me is the preservation of life!

SILVER STREAK
1976
Directed by Arthur Hiller

A major comedic blockbuster at the time, Silver Streak marked the first on-screen pairing of Gene Wilder and the late Richard Pryor.  Pryor was originally supposed to star as Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles, but the world had to wait two more years to see this comedic duo in action. At first thought, it might seem an odd pairing, given the two actors' comedic sensibilities, but they play off each other beautifully here. Wilder plays a hapless book editor on a train, the "Silver Streak", traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago, who thinks he witnesses a murder. When no one believes him, he decides to investigate on his own. All this gets him is a killer on his trail and a convicted thief (Pryor) as a sidekick. The Wilder/Pryor formula proved successful and the two teamed up for three more films in the future.

You stupid, ignorant son of a bitch, dumb bastard. Jesus Christ. I've met some dumb bastards in my time but you outdo them all.

STIR CRAZY
1980
Directed by Sidney Poitier

Two hapless morons, Skip (Wilder) and Harry (Pryor), are mistakenly arrested for a bank robbery and have no way to prove their innocence.  These two criminals have a hard time adjusting to prison life in  series of comedic situations. When the warden learns that Skip has an unnatural ability to ride a bronco, he forces him to ride in a Rodeo competition that will line his pockets when he gambles on him to lose. Skip and Harry immediately concoct an escape plan, but will they make it?  An even bigger box office hit than Silver Streak, the Wilder/Pryor formula proved once again to be incredibly successful, both financially and creatively.

We tried to teach him Charades! He Didnt Get it! He just didnt get it!

Other Notable Films:
BONNIE & CLYDE (1967)
EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK (1972)
THE LITTLE PRINCE (1974)
THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES' SMARTER BROTHER (1975)
THE WORLD'S GREATEST LOVER (1977)
THE FRISCO KID (1979)
THE WOMAN IN RED (1984)
HAUNTED HONEYMOON (1986)
SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL (1989)
ANOTHER YOU (1991)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Essential Films Podcast: Episode 6 - THE SEARCHERS (1956)


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On today's podcast adventure, Adolfo Acosta and Mark Espinosa join Ethan Edwards and Martin Pawley on the trail of some Comanche when they discuss John Ford's essential classic THE SEARCHERS.

On the show, Adolfo and Mark discuss:
• The insane fact that the Academy Awards ignored the film
• Patrick Wayne’s terrible acting
• How we first experienced THE SEARCHERS
• The stunning cinematography
• The John Wayne “character”
• The “true story” that inspired the film
• The magnificent opening and closing shots
• Ethan and Martha’s secret love
• Ford’s influence on the likes of Lucas, Scorsese, Bogdanovich, Tarantino, Milius
• Ford’s exploration of racism
• Ethan and Scar as mirror images of each other
• Is this John Wayne’s greatest performance?
• Ethan Edwards: the anti-hero

PLUS: Mini Discussions on:
• DUMBO (1941)
• SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946)
• BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE (2016)
• SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)
• BATMAN V SUPERMAN: ULTIMATE EDITION (2016)
• SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975)
• CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)
• THE FLY (1986)
• TRUE GRIT (1969, 2010)
• THE KING OF KINGS (1961)
• STAR WARS (1977)
• The book EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS by Peter Biskind
• Michael Cimino
• THE CONQUEROR (1956)
• TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)
• STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)
• HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962)
• BAMBI (1942)
And More!

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The Essential Films Podcast - Episode #032: THE GRADUATE (1967)

iTunes Google Play Spotify   Stream It Hello Darkness, my old friend... On today’s adventure, Adolfo and Mark sit dow...