Remembering Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder, born Jerome Silberman, passed away on August 29, 2016 but he leaves behind an incredible legacy on film.

Blazing Saddles

Gene Wilder was a last-minute replacement for the Waco Kid when the intended actor showed up drunk on the first day of filming. Mel Brooks shut down the set and Wilder was on the next plane out – Gene had already expressed interest in the role but Brooks thought he was too young, even offering the part to Johnny Carson, who turned it down (John Wayne also turned down a role, but insisted he’d be first in line to see it.)

5O1Fqc7

giphy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factor

After rtumblr_m74pfxOh5l1rw5yn2o4_250eading the script, Gene Wilder wanted the role under one condition: that he would be allowed to limp, then suddenly somersault in the scene when he first meets the children. When director Mel Stuart asked why, he replied that having Wonka do this meant that “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” The director asked, “If I say no, you won’t do the picture?” to which Gene replied “I’m afraid that’s the truth.”

There was no one else for the role. According to Mel Stuart, when Gene Wilder walked into the boat_wonkaaudition, he has the part before he even spoke a word. Stuart immediately chased him down the hallway, cut him off at the elevator bank, grabbed his arm and told him “You’re doing this picture, no two ways about it! You are Willy Wonka!” Sorry, Johnny Depp.

 

anigif_enhanced-buzz-18253-1344611008-1

When Willy Wonka is seen drinking from a flower-shaped cup, send Gene Wilder a salute. Though the chocolate river was made from real chocolate and cream (which began to spoil and smell awfully bad), the cup is only made of wax, so Gene would have to chew and spit for every take.

Young Frankenstein

Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder began writing Young Frankenstein on the set of Blazing Saddles. Wilder has always said it’s his favourite of all his films.

Wilder wrote the bit with “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and Mel Brooks hated it, thought it didn’t go withtumblr_n56j6eHHVd1qzk2apo2_500 the rest of the vintage horror theme. Wilder has stated he defended the scene”close to rage and tears” and argued for the scene before Brooks stopped him and said, “It’s in!”. When Wilder asked why he had changed his mind, Brooks said that since Wilder had fought for it so hard, it must be the right thing to do. Only when audiences howled in laughter, however, was Brooks finally convinced.

giphy (1)Gene thought his script was so funny he ruined numerous takes giggling through scenes, much to Cloris Leachman’s annoyance. But according to Wilder, that’s what he and Brooks were always after: “We are not interested in polite titters, we want the audience rolling on the floor and falling about. Mel works on his feet — it’s a hit and miss, hit and miss, hit and miss. Then in the editing he will take out the misses!”

Gene Wilder was married to SNL funny lady Gilda Radner, until her death due to cancer in 1989.

Of her he said “I’m not so funny. Gilda was funny. I’m funny on camera sometimes. In life, once in a while. Once in a while. But she was funny. She spent more time worrying about being liked than anything else.” Gene and Gilda starred in 3 movies together- the first, Hanky Panky, was originally slated to co-star Richard Pryor but when he was forced to back out, the part was rewritten for her.

Gene Wilder consulted a speech pathologist for another movie he actually did do with Richard 525-2Pryor (one of many) called See No Evil, Hear No Evil. He liked the pathologist so much he married her, and they remained married until his death.

Gene’s list of credits goes on and on; truly a talented man worth remembering.

 

 

Beyond The Grave

Beyond the Grace (Portos dos Mortos) is a post-apocalyptic indie sensation out of Brazil, where it successfully made the rounds of film festivals. It’s about a police officer looking for a serial killer, more or less. The catch: life is governed by magic and madness in this new reality. The serial killer is possessed. The cop is fueled by vengeance. This is not a tale of good vs. evil, but rather, the bad vs. the very bad.

The cop picks up a couple of teenagers on his travels – a risky thing to do, he knows. But they too are searching for someone who did them wrong. The cop isn’t much of a talker but luckily the boy can provide both sides of any conversation. And the bonus: the cop has a gun without bullets, and the kid has a lone bullet.

beyondgrave6a_zps0481e190During their road trip they pass what look like zombies to me, but low-budget zombies you’d see trick-or-treating at your house come Halloween. It’s hard to embrace horror when the effects are too cumbersome to be scary. There are some genuinely interesting visuals here, most of them blood-soaked, but it’s not enough to make up a frustrating act in story-telling. The quiet serves the story well though, the audience learning much of what we know from a constantly cracking radio rather than any character.

I was a little upset, and by a little upset I mean and I was REALLY FUCKING UPSET when a zombie pulled out a gun. I mean, doesn’t that violate everything we know about zombies? And how do the zombies have guns when the cop’s is useless? I know I just mentioned two paragraphs ago that this post-apocalyptic world is governed by magic, I just didn’t expect the ‘magic’ to be ‘stupidity.’ My mistake.

So I lost interest in the movie quickly after this, especially when some super cheesy music was played over a montage where the teenagers learn to shoot a gun…that has no bullets.

So this movie is probably only to be enjoyed by those who really love zombie flicks – foreign, subtitled, low-budget, fantasy, road-tripping zombie movies with a western twist. Which I can’t say that I am.

 

 

Hank Boyd Is Dead

Sarah Walsh has been in LA trying “the acting thing” for a long time but she’s recently moved back home to care for her terminally ill father. She’s picking up hours as a caterer’s assistant and finds herself working the funeral of a man she used to know in high school. Hank Boyd, a smart but socially inept outcast, is dead by his own hand – he killed himself in police custody before standing trial on a murder charge.

The small town is filled with speculation: where the victim’s head might be found, crimes Hank may have committed previously, and whether Boyd is serial killer material. To Walsh these accusations ring false – sure he was weird, but a murderer?

Hank2Hank Boyd is Dead is half narrative film, half pretend documentary, with characters giving talking head interviews about the deceased and the mysterious circumstances of his life and death. The production values are a little inconsistent, with the narrative pieces much stronger. The acting is quite good. The unknown cast really makes this work, with Stefanie Frame as Walsh being a particular standout.

The Boyd family is pretty messed up. Hank’s predilection for beheading pretty young girls is the least worrisome habit on this family tree. This means the movie necessitates some pretty heavy suspensions of disbelief, and believe me, my disbelief was pretty flipping thick. The writing is expository and clunky with obvious attempts to fill in the potholes in the plot. While it is not exactly a spoof, it is perhaps enjoyed best in that spirit.

 

Free State of Jones

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a poor man fighting a rich man’s war, and he knows it. The rich men have cleverly saved themselves from war by enacting the 20 Negro Law, which exempts any man who owns 20 slaves. Nice loophole. Knight is less than pleased. When a very young recruit is gunned down beside him, he straps the body to a horse and sets off to return the boy to his mother for burial. The only problem is, this act stinks of desertion to everyone that matters.

Not content with hiding out, Knight (a real historical figure) instead founds free-state-of-jonesthe “free state of Jones”, made up of deserters, runaway slaves, and women, and they start their own mini rebellion against the corrupt Confederates in charge. The soldiers have been raiding local homes, taking their “10%” (more like 90), but leaving large plantations untouched. These people aren’t exactly hard to convince which side will benefit them most.

Free State of Jones is graphic from the get-go, but if you can survive the first two or three minutes, the worst of the gore is over. It helps to establish how bloody and senseless this war is (the civil war, if that’s not clear): no matter how perfectly rhythmic the marching, it doesn’t stop you from getting mowed down. Director Gary Ross also tries to give the film some context by intercutting the main story with courtroom snippets of a case against a man     1\8th negro, a coloured person in the eyes of the law, who thus is not allowed to be married to his white wife. I didn’t care for the splicing but came to appreciate it by the end.

This is absolutely a brilliant and worthy piece of history but it’s not quite done right by Free State of Jones. The movie’s well over 2 hours but feels as though FREE STATE OF JONESit lollygags from scene to scene, dwelling in weird places, then rushing through others. Perhaps Ross has simply bitten off more than he can chew, but you can see his good intentions shine through. What we need, though, is passion. It’s sadly lacking here. Even McConaughey’s strong performance is muddied by the white saviour characterization: Knight was a much more divisive figure.

I enjoyed this movie but was frustrated by its limitations. I would have liked to have seen more of Rachel, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who I think  is spectacular but criminally underused in this film. I wouldn’t stop anyone from watching Free State of Jones, but I am endeavouring to temper your expectations. The civil war has many stories to tell, but they aren’t just historical ones. There are a lot of modern consequences, enough to give you shivers.

 

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

I’m at a wedding today, one I’m helping to coordinate, so I know the brides and I are all hoping that it won’t be cloudy, nor will there by any weird weather events. Blue skies and sunshine please.

I saw Up in theatres with my best friend Rachel in the spring of 2009. The previews included a trailer for a movie I’d never heard of before – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. With our dorky 3D glasses on, the meatballs looked big and bad and only a glance between us was needed to establish that this is where we’d be when it came out in September of that year.

I did see Meatballs in theatres, with Sean. Rachel was dead by then. She died very suddenly on this day 7 years ago, the result of a motorcycle accident. She left behind a 9 year old daughter and was just a couple of weeks away from turning 30. She was buried in a sundress that I bought her. She was always older than me but now I’m older than she ever got to be. I’ve been without her for longer than I knew her, but her loss still smarts.

Meatballs was possibly the first movie I saw with Sean. He and I met just a month before Rachel died. He never knew her in life; they only “met” when he accompanied me to the hospital to say my goodbyes, but that swollen face and broken body weren’t her.

I’ve never been able to be objective about this movie. I like it. It has Mr. T. and that’s pretty objectively great. But it’s also a way to have one last date with the fabulous Miss Rachel. I never got to throw her that surprise birthday party, or be the maid of honour at her wedding. But I did see this movie, and I know she saw it with me.

Ghost Team

A man obsessed with the paranormal (Napolean Dynamite himself, Jon Heder) decides to put together a “crack” team, including Justin Long, Amy Sedaris, and David Krumholtz, to do a little ghost-hunting himself.

27-ghost-team_w1200_h630The team are meant to be losers and comically so, but that doesn’t explain away the incredibly bad acting, particularly by Justin Long who was never great to begin with but now has fallen down into the boggy ditch-water of has-been celebrities.

You may remember Justin Long’s brief time in the sun: 2006-2009. He’s Just Not That Into You was probably the pinnacle of, and the virtual end of, his career. The world just wasn’t that into him anymore. He’s continued to work, sporadically, nearly invisibly, in pity projects that his old friends throw him, like scraps to a dog. And god knows he does have those puppy dog eyes. But even among the B-listers in this movie, he’s a stand-out bathed in a spotlight of inferiority.

Anyway, the one interesting thing about this movie is that it fails on so many levels: it fails to be a juicy ghost story, it fails to be a decent horror, and it definitely fails to be remotely funny. It’s ostensibly trying to make fun of those paranormal “reality” shows but doesn’t have a goddamn thing to say about it, really. The jokes are paper thin. There’s a third act twist that’s almost good fun but they misuse it by throwing it in beyond the point of our caring. Most people will have turned Ghost Team off well before they ever see it. And truly, it’s not worth hanging in for. Nothing is. This straight-to-video waste of time is better left unwatched.

When Marnie Was There

I haven’t a single bad thing to say about this movie, except it just didn’t speak to me. I’m supposed to like it; it’s Oscar-nominated from the Studio of Ghibli, which are all the credentials it needs. But it’s slow. Painfully slow at times.

Anna-and-Marnie-boatI feel guilty for not liking this, for failing to appreciate the beauty of a more hand-drawn aesthetic. The truth is, I’m just not comfortable with someone that looks too much like Sailor Moon.

And the plot, based on an English book (which I suppose explains the awkward tripping over of the name ‘Marnie’ with a Japanese accent), relies too heavily on a 12 year old’s sensibilities. I couldn’t relate. And I didn’t care to. There were definitely some visuals with a watercolour beauty to them, but the whole thing didn’t add up to the usual magic I’m used to from Studio Ghibli, and by the middle of the movie I was so bored by the thing I just wanted it to wrap up already. Does this make me a terrible person? Probably. Everyone else loves this movie. It’s just really not for me.

 

Kidnap Capital

Phoenix, Arizona is the kidnap capital of the world; as many as 1000 drop houses in the city are hiding kidnapped illegal immigrants from Central America. This movie is the story of one such house.

A dirty, dark room houses a bunch of underwear-clad men. Some have been there a long time, some are new. All are grimy, desperate, and scared. All are being held for $2800 ransom, which none have. Most have already spent their life savings to get this far – to America, land of the free. Land of kidnappers preying on the vulnerable. Land of guns, (KIDNAP CAPITAL) - Publicity still 4.jpgterror, and violence. Although they’ve dreamt their whole lives of a better life in America, most just want to go home. A few have nothing to go back to. Manolo, newly arrived, is mostly concerned for his wife.

The women have been contained elsewhere, maybe not being held for money, but held for other reasons – the kind of reasons that give husbands nightmares. So if money isn’t going to solve their problems (and they don’t have any anyway), looks like the only way to survive is by fighting, easier said than done when the captors are armed and motivated gangsters.

Writer-director Felipe Rodriguez gives us suspense and agony in Kidnap Capital. It’s gripping and heartbreaking and takes place almost entirely in one suburban home. I would have liked to have seen more of the outside world, not because the interior isn’t enough (I actually think the sense of claustrophobia is brilliant), but because this whole thing is KidnapCapital_FeatImage@2x.pnggoing down in a nice, friendly neighbourhood just like yours. Like mine. And it takes an awful lot of looking the other way by an awful lot of neighbours, cops, friends and family, for a kidnap ring like this to work. And this is going on TIMES A THOUSAND in Phoenix. So that’s a lot of selective blindness by a lot of “good people.” And that made me so sad.

Immigration isn’t an easy issue, but I have tonnes of sympathy for people whose lives are so wretched that they sacrifice and risk everything for the chance at a better life. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know they don’t deserve this. And this is real. It could be happening in your neighbour’s basement right now. With Sicario and Desierto and now this, movies are giving voice to a forgotten, helpless people. Human trafficking isn’t just a movie plot, which is why this one’s going to stick with me for a good long time.

Sunshine

50 years into the future, the sun is a dying star, and Earth will die along with it. We send a ship of astronauts to bomb the sun back into shining but the team goes awol somewhere out in the million miles of space. So we send another one, but this IS IT. Mankind’s last hope. We’ve officially mined all of Earth’s resources for this motherload. No pressure!

sunshine02The new team includes Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, and Cillian Murphy. They’re clearly already under stress when we meet them several years into their trip to the sun, but shit’s about to get a whole lot messier. Just as they’re approaching the most dangerous part of the mission, they receive a signal. It’s a ping from the lost ship. It’s been 7 years since anyone’s heard from them…they can’t still be alive, can they?

The crew debates whether they should divert their mission to find out. But this is not a democracy, the captain reminds them. They’re scientists, and he gives the decision to the person most qualified to make it, the ship’s physicist, played by Cillian Murphy. No matter what he decides, he’s fucked. No matter what he decides, his crew will hold him responsible for the lives and the mission he’s risked. Classic lose-lose scenario. Fun!

Okay, fun is the wrong word. Writer Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle are reteamed after Sunshine_spacesuitbring us The Beach and 28 Days Later. Danny Boyle has more recently done Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, and Steve Jobs. Alex Garland wrote Ex Machina. These boys don’t do fun. They do: harrowing, intense, suspenseful. Sun-psychosis. The closer the ship gets to its goal, the more things fall apart. Fall apart literally and psychologically. And philosophically.

It starts out as an interesting, cerebral sci-fi adventure, on the lower end of the action scale, but not without daring stunts. But in Sunshine, getting closer to the sun is like getting closer to god. And reality unravels a bit like we’ve seen in Interstellar. Sunshine is ambitious. Boyle and Garland are asking us to consider some hot and heavy questions. Big Questions. Boyle manages to put story and character ahead of special effects, making this a very worthy, brainy, thoughtful entry into the sci-fi genre (and likely his last – he found this film to be extremely draining). The film makers actually want to make us understand what it’s like to get so close to our most glorious star. The increasingly fractured and subliminal scenes are almost reminiscent of some of the more hallucinogenic stuff from Boyle’s Trainspotting days, and the glimpses from inside sunshine-murphy-sunthe helmets of the striking gold space suits clutch at your throat. I had some very real autonomic responses to this film and I swear I could feel the heat. Boyle wisely uses actors who can take the heat and radiate some of their own. He even more wisely stays away from the love triangle cliché and sticks to things that feel very real for a set of humans staring into the sun and seeing their own deaths. There’s fear and panic and bravery and resolve.

If this movie was American, it would doubtless be a bunch of American cowboys being sent up with fireworks and catch phrases, but Sunshine includes an appropriately global response, which helps to underline the fact that in space, with human extinction on the line, there is no race or culture. It’s about those decisions to make sacrifices, to act for the greater good, to reach beyond which you think yourself capable. Sunshine stumbles in its final act – things get so weighty it seems to buckle a bit, but this remains a movie that is criminally underrated. Many thanks to my fellow film bloggers who pointed me toward this, and I hope maybe I’ve done the same for some of you.

Ratchet And Clank

I was just saying that animated movies were very strong in 2016 – I loved The Little Prince, Zootopia, Kubo And The Two Strings…and likely many more. What I did not love, or even like, was Ratchet And Clank.

ratchet-and-clank-screen-06-ps4-eu-02jun15A cute nearly-puppy looking protagonist named Ratchet is “trying out” to join a team of alien super heroes, the Galactic Rangers. He’s not strong or fast, but he has “heart” and lots of failed inventions and a robot sidekick named Clank. Sounds promising on paper but it just wasn’t interesting in practice. Small children may make it through but even they’ll know there’s just better stuff out there. It does nothing to distinguish itself. It has an admirable message lost somewhere amid the chaos about the surprisingly thin line between heroes and villains, but it’s so obviously just going through the motions that it fails to inspire. Even my idle curiosity and need to kill an hour and a half weren’t fulfilled by this in any way. If it’s mediocre animation you’re after, try Kung Fu Panda #Whatever, or The Secret Life of Pets.

This movie is based on a video game I know nothing about, nor do I want to after this exposure. Ratchet and Clank, as far as I’m concerned, can go back to living underneath the rock I accidentally unearthed. Bye, Felicia.