Category Archives: 1986

Top 15 Kurt Russell Movies

 

With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 coming out soon, I thought it would be a good idea to list my favorite top 15 Kurt Russell movies. He’s definitely one of my favorite actors and has so many good roles over the years.

15 – Used Cars (1980)

Now leading up to the release of this film, Kurt Russell was a Disney name. My brother and I were 10 years old when this film was released and Kurt was our favorite Disney actor, so of course, my Mom took her twins to see Used Cars as soon as it came out…only to walk out of the theatre halfway through, shocked…she never realized it was rated R. Definitely not a Disney film. I have seen it since as an adult, and I can appreciate the film now, but back then, not so much. I am glad that he did this film early on as he had to break the Disney mold somehow, otherwise he would have never done some of his later great films as an adult.  This film was shot in and around Mesa and Scottsdale, Arizona, and we moved there when we turned 15 years later and recognized many of the locations. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis and executive produced by Steven Spielberg. The movie is about the owner (Jack Warden) of a struggling used car lot, who is killed. His hot-shot car salesman (Kurt Russell), wanting to keep the car lot going and to save his job, steps in to save the property from falling into the hands of the owner’s ruthless brother and used-car rival.

14 – Elvis (1979)

Shot the year before by director, John Carpenter, Elvis would be the first pairing for the director and Kurt Russell. They would go on to make four more movies together. Kurt Russell made his initial film debut in It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963) which starred Elvis Presley. According to Russell, Presley was 27 years old when he did “…World’s Fair” and Russell was 27 years old when he did this film.

13 – The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)

This is part of the series of films Kurt Russell did for Walt Disney, playing a character named Dexter Riley, which my brother and I love. I’ll just mention this one as the first and best one, but they are all fun family films. They include Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972), The Strongest Man in the World (1975), and we’ll throw in The Barefoot Executive (1971), because he pretty much plays the same character in that one too. Kurt Russell’s co-star in these was Joe Flynn, a very under-rated character actor that is hilarious in all of these movies. Joe Flynn played Dean Higgins of Medfield College, where student Dexter Riley goes to school. The name of the educational institution, “Medfield College” is also the setting featured in other Disney films such as this movie’s sequels Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World as well as the earlier The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and its sequel Son of Flubber (1963) where Professor Brainard (Fred MacMurray) teaches science.

Side note – these 4 films were written by Joseph McEveety, who also wrote Disney’s Superdad (1973), No Deposit, No Return (1976), and Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978). He’s the brother of directors Bernard McEveety and Vincent McEveety, who would go on to direct for Disney, the films; The Bears and I (1974), Napoleon and Samantha (1972), One Little Indian (1973), and Donovan’s Kid (1979) for Bernard and Menace on the Mountain (1970), The Million Dollar Duck (1971), The Biscuit Eater (1972), Charley and the Angel (1973), Superdad, The Castaway Cowboy (1974), The Strongest Man in the World, Treasure of Matecumbe (1976), Gus (1976), The Ghost of Cypress Swamp (1977), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979), The Watcher in the Woods (1980) and Herbie Goes Bananas (1980) for Vincent. These 3 brothers were very effective at driving a lot of the Disney films in the 1970’s.

12 – The Art of the Steal (2013)

A little known film about Crunch Calhoun, a semi-reformed art thief, who agrees to get his old gang back together to pull off one last heist. Kurt Russell plays Crunch. This is a great heist film with some fun twists, written and directed by Jonathan Sobol. Cool cast includes Matt Dillion, who I think is an under-utilized actor. He should be in more movies than he is.

11 – Follow Me, Boys! (1966)

This is a fantastic movie and simply the best film ever done that features the Boy Scouts. It’s about Lem Siddons, who is part of a traveling band who has a dream of becoming a lawyer. Deciding to settle down, he finds a job as a stockboy in the general store of a small town. Trying to fit in, he volunteers to become scoutmaster of the newly formed Troop 1. Becoming more and more involved with the scout troop, he finds his plans to become a lawyer being put on the back burner, until he realizes that his life has been fulfilled helping the youth of the small town. Kurt Russell plays a boy that Lem reaches out to help and the main boy in the movie. It was Kurt’s first movie for Disney and it established him for the next 12 years in the studio. He would go on to star in 9 more Disney movies as well as numerous Disney TV shows.

10 – Breakdown (1997)

This movie was Taken, before Liam Neeson came around. Not really but technically the same story, but with his wife instead of daughter. Kurt Russell has starred with J.T. Walsh three times before, in Tequila Sunrise (1988), Backdraft (1991), and Executive Decision (1996). Kurt Russell has killed J.T. Walsh twice in a movie. In Tequila Sunrise he shoots him. In this film, he throws him off the bridge, and Amy puts the truck in neutral, causing the truck to land on him.

9 – Executive Decision (1996)

When terrorists seize control of an airliner, an intelligence analyst accompanies a commando unit for a midair boarding operation. The real surprise in this movie happens about 20 minutes into the film when Steven Seagal, who you think is going to be a major character, dies. It was the first time in a movie, where Steven Seagal’s character gets killed. It would happen again in Machete (2010). Kurt enjoyed the script as soon as he read it. He said later, “When I read Executive Decision, it was a real page-turner. I read scripts for the stories more than I do for the characters. I’ve read lots of characters I’d like to play, but I didn’t enjoy the movie itself that much. I liked the fun of Executive Decision, you know, I feel when an audience sees my name attached to a film, they think it’ll probably be a pretty good movie. The movies I do, if we make them well, will be fun to watch. They may not be the best movie of the year, and I may not be your favorite actor, but people come up to me all the time and say, “I like the movies you do”.

8 – Escape From New York (1981)

This movie has an incredibly unique premise; in 1997, when the U.S. president crashes into Manhattan, now a giant maximum security prison, a convicted bank robber is sent in to rescue him. That man of course is Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). He reprises the role again in Escape From LA, but that movie is really cheesy. I mostly like cheese, but that sequel is too much at times. Kurt Russell has stated that this (the first one) is his favorite of all his films, and Snake Plissken is his favorite of his characters. Snake Plissken’s eyepatch was suggested by Kurt. Clint Eastwood was considered for the role of Snake Plissken. Kurt based his performance on Eastwood, in his westerns. The line “I thought you were dead” was probably borrowed from Big Jake (1971). Every time John Wayne tells someone his name, the standard response is “I thought you were dead.” Which would mean that parts of this film were inspired by two legendary western stars, or their films; John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Snake, being based on Clint, has the added irony that Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef were in several “spaghetti westerns” together, who also stars in this movie.

7 – Stargate (1994)

An interstellar teleportation device, found in Egypt, leads to a planet with humans resembling ancient Egyptians who worship the god Ra. In a magazine interview, James Spader said that he found the original screenplay “awful” but also that it was so bad it actually intrigued him. He then met with Roland Emmerich, was inspired by the director’s passion for the project, and decided to make the movie because he felt the energy and craziness of making such a film would translate into an exciting final film.

6 – Backdraft (1991)

Ron Howard directed film about two Chicago firefighter brothers, who don’t get along, who have to work together while a dangerous arsonist is on the loose. Kurt Russell, Kevin Casey, Scott Glenn, and William Baldwin did a lot of their own stunts, and the Stunt Coordinator Walter Scott was so impressed by their performances, that he credited them as stunt performers in the credits. William and Kurt went to a firefighter “boot camp” to learn the ropes. They even slept at a Chicago firehouse for about a month. Ron Howard described Kurt’s approach was “aggressive, but entertaining, and totally honest.” Kurt was originally considered for the lead role of Connor Macleod in Highlander (1986), which was written by the same writer of this film.

5 – Overboard (1997)

A cruel but beautiful heiress screws over a hired carpenter, who later is the first one to find her when she gets amnesia. Looking for a little revenge he convinces her that she’s his wife. Great romantic comedy by Garry Marshall and also starring Goldie Hawn, Kurt’s real life love. As of 2017, this is the third and last of three movies that real-life couple Goldie and Kurt appeared in together as co-stars. Their earlier collaborations were Swing Shift (1984) and The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968). Looking back on the film, Garry Marshall thinks that it’s “still one of the funniest pictures I ever made,” he said later.

4 – Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

An All-American trucker, Jack Burton, gets dragged into a centuries-old mystical battle in Chinatown. Kurt Russell confessed on the DVD commentary that he was afraid of starring in the movie, because he had made a string of movies that flopped at the box-office. When he asked John Carpenter about it, he told Kurt that it didn’t matter to him – he just wanted to make the movie with him. It did flop at the box office initially, but became a huge hit on video and DVD years later. Now it’s considered a cult classic. John and Kurt explain on the audio commentary that the first test screening was so overwhelmingly positive, that both of them expected it to be a big hit after they made it. However, 20th Century Fox put little into promoting the movie, and it ended up being a box-office bomb. According to John and Kurt in the DVD commentary, the story was originally written as a western, but Carpenter decided to set it during modern times. They even mention that instead of Jack Burton’s truck being stolen, it was originally his horse. Kurt Russell turned down the lead role of Connor MacLeod in Highlander to appear in this film. Both movies were made and released by 20th Century Fox. An interesting side note, in the scene where Kurt is attempting to infiltrate the brothel, he is wearing the same outfit that he wore in Used Cars.

3 – Tango and Cash (1989)

The original idea for this film was to get Rambo and the Terminator together for a buddy cop film. They couldn’t get Arnold Schwarzenegger back then so it became a Rambo and Snake Plissken film. Not really, but it had Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, two action stars in one movie. Kurt was originally considered and offered the role of Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon (1987), but he turned it down, and it went to Mel Gibson, with whom he worked on Tequila Sunrise. His character in this film is loosely based on Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon.

2 – The Thing (1982)

It’s no secret that I love this movie. I write about it in a blog post: http://brothers-ink.com/2016/02/the-thing/

It’s the finest horror film ever made and is about a research facility in Antarctica that comes across an alien force that can become anything it touches with 100% accuracy. The members must now find out who’s human and who’s not before it’s too late. John Carpenter has stated that of all his films, this is also his personal favorite. John Carpenter’s film is a much more faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell, Jr.’s original novella “Who Goes There?” than The Thing from Another World (1951). For example, the 1951 version introduced female characters including a “love interest” for the hero. This film, like the original story, has no roles for women. Also, the use of a hot needle, to check the blood of the characters to see if they were still human or not, was taken directly from the original novella, and was not used in the 1951 movie. When the crew are all discussing what the alien spacecraft might be, one of them explains it by saying “Chariots of the Gods.” This is a reference to the famous 1968 book by Swiss-German author Erich von Däniken entitled “Chariots of the Gods?” which hypothesized that many of the world’s great historical monuments, such as the Egyptian Pyramids, were built with the aid of technologies and religion provided by extra-terrestrial beings, who were treated as deities by ancient peoples.

1 – Tombstone (1993)

I mention this film as the top film for a list for Val Kilmer as well in a post from our blog: http://brothers-ink.com/2016/12/top-15-val-kilmer-movies/

It’s the best film you can find about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the fight at the OK Corral. Unbelievable cast with Kurt, Val, Bill Paxton, Sam Elliott, Powers Booth, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Dana Delaney, Charlton Heston, and Michael Biehn. In an interview with True West magazine in October 2006, Kurt admit that after original director Kevin Jarre was fired, he directed a majority of the picture. According to Russell, George P. Cosmatos served merely to make things run smoothly. Also, in the True West interview, Kurt stated that the film was nearly cast with Richard Gere as Wyatt Earp, and Willem Dafoe as Doc Holliday.

Top 15 Monster Movies

 

The new blockbuster movie season is almost upon us, so I’m going to take this opportunity to name and talk about my favorite top 15 monster movies over the past 100 years at the movies. Now, in the cases of series, or numerous remakes of the same monster, I’ve taken the liberty of just listing it once on the list with my favorite movie in that series and that film in essence, represents the monster. Also, if I felt that it was more of a horror film instead of a monster movie, because most can be both, I didn’t mention it on this list, although it could be one of my all time favorite movies.  The Thing comes to mind, I love that movie, but I consider it to be a horror film way more than it is a monster movie, so I didn’t include it on the list. A good way of thinking of this is if they could fall under the Universal Studios monsters group of movies.  They concentrate on adventure over horror. The best monster movies aren’t that scary at all, but truly fun and thrilling, although most will have some scary moments or moments that make you jump out of your skin.

15  I, Frankenstein (2014)

This was a very under-rated movie and one that seemed to get no marketing when it was released but actually was a rather good movie. My favorite so far of all the different Frankenstein movies that are out there. A big reason is Aaron Eckert, who plays the Frankenstein monster in this one. He’s great. It’s interesting to note, that in the original screenplay, “I, Frankenstein” and its hypothetical sequels were to take place in the same universe as the “Underworld” series (placed #14 on my list) which is from the same producers and shares actors Bill Nighy and Kevin Grevioux. Kate Beckinsale was rumored to be making a cameo as Selene. Ultimately none of these ideas were used. Since the movie didn’t make much money, it’s unlikely that any sequels will be made, making the matter moot, but boy this could have been cool.

14  Underworld (2003)

Would have to go with the first one in the series as the best one. I don’t think that’s always the case. Kate Beckinsale is the reason this series is worth watching. It’s also fun to see Vampires and Werewolves going full on war. The movie was initially pitched as “Romeo and Juliet for vampires and werewolves”. It’s interesting to see the prequel and sequels of the series, also to see how things began and finish. They have gone back and changed the original, however, as for the 2017 4K High Definition remaster of Underworld, the scene where Michael sees flashbacks into Lucian’s past/Sonya’s death was actually replaced with the 2009 scenes in Rise of the Lycans instead of the 2003 flashbacks.

13  Dracula Untold (2014)

Another version that didn’t seem to do well, or wasn’t marketed properly, but that I found to be much superior than any of it’s previous movies based on Dracula. Luke Evans plays Dracula in this version, and he’s very intense.  Dracula Untold was in production before Universal decided to build a cinematic universe. The producers caught wind of it just in time to independently add a present-day epilogue that Universal could use if they wanted to, but it was ultimately decided that Dracula Untold would not be the first entry in the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe. That first film of the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe is the new The Mummy film coming out in 2017, which features Tom Cruise in the starring role and also Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll to set up his stand alone film for the new Jekyll and Hyde remake.

12 Godzilla (2014)

It’s pretty obvious by now that 2014 was a pretty good year for monster movies, you just may not have known it. It’s mainly because now technology has made it a lot easier to do special effects than ever before. The technology has finally caught up with the creative in this area. This is the latest Godzilla movie to come around and I like it because after the film gets rolling, Godzilla becomes somewhat of a hero in the film rather than the creature out to destroy everything that he was presented as at times. It’s also the first in a new set of films set in the same “universe”, the 2nd being Kong: Skull Island that just came out, the 3rd being Godzilla: King of Monsters set to be released in 2019 and the last being King Kong vs. Godzilla in 2020. On this film, according to Bryan Cranston, Gareth Edwards was inspired by the shark film Jaws (1975). “The film does not immediately show the beast, but rather build up to its appearance while still delivering an eerie and terrifying off-screen presence.” In homage to Jaws, the main protagonists have the name of Brody, after that film’s protagonist.

11  Deep Blue Sea (1999)

The sharks in this film do have a tendency to grow and shrink in size depending on where they are in the film, but if you can turn your brain off of that fact, this is a pretty cool movie.  Renny Harlin directed it and he has said that it was the hardest film he’s ever made. Samuel L. Jackson happily signed on for the film, as he had enjoyed his experience working with Renny Harlin on The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996).  Renny Harlin admitted that the idea of abruptly killing off Samuel L. Jackson’s character at two-thirds of the movie was borrowed from the similar fate of Tom Skerritt in Alien (1979). Both men were the natural leaders of their respective groups, leaving the remaining survivors in utter despair, and both were the best-known actor in the cast at the time, thereby making their premature demise extra shocking and unexpected. The impact of Jackson’s sudden death scene was intensified by making his preceding speech somewhat long and corny. After watching the scene with an audience for the first time, and hearing them scream in horror and fear, Harlin said that this scene paid off for the entire movie. Just a side-note, the three sharks in this movie are killed in the same ways as the three sharks in Jaws (1975), Jaws 2 (1978), and Jaws 3-D (1983): blown up, electrocuted, and incinerated respectively.

10  Deep Rising (1998)

DEEP RISING, Treat Williams

Now this film is the best in a series of films that are about creatures from the ocean like Leviathan, Virus, Deep Star Six and The Rift. This is actually a really great film, but no-one seems to know about it. Probably because of the lower budget. Originally, Harrison Ford turned down the role of Finnegan. The production’s budget was then downsized. Stephen Sommers, the writer-director, would become known for his monster movies, and this is one of his best. He would go on to direct The Mummy, Van Helsing and The Mummy Returns. Stephen began writing this script, then called “Tentacle”, when he worked at Hollywood Pictures in the mid-90s. Go out a rent this movie, it’s a blast.

9  Lake Placid (1999)

Another film that nobody knows about.  Seemed to go straight to video, but it’s a great movie. This one has a very strange pedigree as it was written by David E. Kelly famous for Law Firm TV Shows like Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, LA Law, Picket Fences and The Practice! Then it was directed by Steve Miner, famous for giving us the real Friday the 13th killer Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2 and Friday the 13th part 3, as the first movie’s killer was his mother, Mrs Voorhees! This movie is funny but has plenty of scares to go around. It’s about a giant crocodile living in Lake Placid. The size of the crocodile in the movie is actually much larger than anything ever recorded in real life. The current largest crocodile in captivity (Guinness book of records, 2015) is 5.48 metres (about 18 ft), and although there are (unverified) reports of sightings over 20 feet in length, nothing is as large as the 30ft quoted in the movie.

8  The Fly (1986)

Now, for some reason a running theme in monster movies is the use of science to explain how a monster has been created or come about. This one has the best use of science (except for movie #2) to help build the tension for any of the monster movies. In a 1987 interview on Sinister Image (1987) Vincent Price revealed that when this remake was released, star Jeff Goldblum wrote him a letter saying, “I hope you like it as much as I liked yours.” Price was touched by the letter, he composed a reply and went to see the film, which he described as “wonderful right up to a certain point… it went a little too far.” David Cronenberg met with some opposition when he announced that he wanted to cast Jeff Goldblum in the lead role. The executive at Fox who was supervising the project felt that Goldblum was not a bankable star, and Chris Walas (Make-up) felt that his face would be difficult to work with for the make-up effects. Both, however, deferred to Cronenberg’s judgment. Cronenberg himself later had reservations when Goldblum suggested Geena Davis, his girlfriend at the time, for the other lead role, as he did not want to have to work with a real-life couple. Cronenberg was convinced after Davis’s first reading that she was right for the role. Producer Stuart Cornfeld suggested that they audition more actresses saying that it’s the “script that is brilliant”. Cornfeld relented after “nobody else even came close”. The famous tagline, “Be afraid, be very afraid!”, originated in this film as dialogue spoken by Geena Davis.

7  Tremors (1990)

If you’ve ever watched Dune and thought the best thing about it was the sand worms then this movie is for you. Writer S.S. Wilson said that he got the idea for the film while he was working for the US Navy in the California desert. While resting on a rock, he imagined what it might be like if something underground kept him from getting off the rock. Tremors was the first film directed by Ron Underwood, who would go on to direct City Slickers, Speechless, Mighty Joe Young, Heart and Souls, and tons of TV Shows.

6  Gremlins (1984)

Written by the amazing Chris Columbus and directed by Joe Dante, this was my favorite film from 1984, at the time, although since then Terminator, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Dreamscape, The Last Starfighter, Romancing the Stone, The Philadelphia Experiment, Top Secret!, All of Me, Runaway, Ghostbusters, and Beverly Hills Cop have since topped that movie in that year, for me. But at 14 years old, Gremlins was my favorite. But now that I look back, that may have been one of the most incredible years for films…I mean, wow, what a list of films all released in the same year. The set for Kingston Falls, the location this movie is set in, is the same one used for Back to the Future (1985). Both movies were filmed in the Universal Studios backlot, and you could see the set for many years afterward if you went on the Universal Studios Tram Tour. Steven Spielberg had a great working relationship with Chris Columbus on this film, and he produced the next two films Columbus scripted–The Goonies (1985), based on an idea Spielberg had, and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), which was Columbus’ idea. Altogether, three years was spent working on those three films.

5  King Kong (1933)

Now the new film, Kong: Skull Island is pretty fun stuff, but the original is just too iconic not be on the list. It is effectively the model for almost all of the monster movies that have followed since. The other King Kong movies are pretty great too, but the original is just one of those films, especially at the time, that people’s jaws just dropped and everyone went…wow. It’s amazing, back then and today. The project went through numerous title changes during production, including “The Beast” (original title of draft by Edgar Wallace in RKO files), “The Eighth Wonder”, “The Ape”, “King Ape” and “Kong”. Art drawn for the press book for the original release of the film was contributed by Keye Luke, who was a highly regarded illustrator before he became an actor and whose works have appeared in films themselves, such as The Shanghai Gesture (1941), and who acted in such classic films as the number 1 son of Charlie Chan in a slew of films and as the old Chinese shop owner in our #5 film, Gremlins.

4  The Mummy (1999)

Great remake, much better than the original, even though I love Boris Karloff. The remake is a great mix of monster movie and adventure movie…just brilliant. It was originally planned to open the film with the old black and white Universal logo that had been used at the beginning of The Mummy (1932) which would dissolve into the blazing desert sun. Would have given a really cool connection to the old style Universal monster movies. Brendan Fraser was cast due to the success of George of the Jungle (1997). Stephen Sommers also commented that he felt Fraser fit the Errol Flynn swashbuckling character he had envisioned perfectly. The actor understood that his character “doesn’t take himself too seriously, otherwise the audience can’t go on that journey with him”. Before Brendan Fraser, the role of Rick’ O’Connel was offered to Sylvester Stallone. That would have been a very different film. I’m glad that Stephen Sommers stuck to his vision of the film. Stephen Sommers described his vision of the film as “as a kind of Indiana Jones or Jason and the Argonauts (1963) with the mummy as the creature giving the hero a hard time”.

3  Aliens (1986)

This one almost didn’t make my list as it literally scared me half to death when I first saw it. It’s hard not to think of it as a horror film, but what James Cameron brought to this franchise is so good and so ground-breaking that it literally transcends many genres. Sigourney Weaver had initially been very hesitant to reprise her role as Ripley, especially because Cameron had cut the scene where Burke had brought Ripley the news of just missing the death of her character’s daughter (which Weaver felt would have completed the circle of the mother-daughter bond with Newt) she had rejected numerous offers from Fox Studios to do any sequels, fearing that her character would be poorly written, and a sub-par sequel could hurt the legacy of Alien (1979). However, she was so impressed by the high quality of James Cameron’s script – specifically, the strong focus on Ripley, the mother-daughter bond between her character and Newt, and the incredible precision with which Cameron wrote her character, that she finally agreed to do the film.

2  Jurassic Park (1993)

Harrison Ford was offered and turned down the role of Dr. Alan Grant, as he felt that the part just wasn’t right for him. After seeing the film, he says that he had made the right decision. James Cameron has stated that he wanted to make the film, but the rights were bought “a few hours” before he could interview with Crichton. Upon seeing Jurassic Park, Cameron realized that Spielberg was the better choice to direct it as his version would’ve been much more violent (“Aliens (1986) with dinosaurs”) which “wouldn’t have been fair” to children, who relate to dinosaurs. The special effects were directly influenced by Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Originally, Michael Crichton’s agents circulated the book to six studios and directors. Warner Brothers wanted it for Tim Burton to direct, while Columbia Pictures was planning it for Richard Donner. 20th Century Fox was also interested, and was intending the project for Joe Dante, while Universal Pictures wanted Steven Spielberg to direct. Crichton was reluctant to submit to a bidding war. He instructed his agents to put a set price on the film rights and he could decide who was more likely to actually get the film made. After interviewing all the prospective directors, he agreed to sell the rights to Universal and Steven Spielberg, who was already his first choice.

1  Jaws (1975)

Kind of fitting to me to have a Universal Studios film as my number 1 monster movie of all time, but probably not the one people would instantly think of as a Universal monster movie…Jaws. It  is, although one of the few that was a highlight on the Universal Studios Tram Tour, but not the reason why it’s number one on my list. It’s just a fantastic movie. Is it iconic that Steven Spielberg directed both of the top two films? It’s also interesting that each of these films were based on books, bought before the books were released into stores. Peter Benchley’s novel was first discovered in galley form at early 1973 by then Cosmopolitan Magazine editor and producer David Brown’s wife Helen Gurley Brown who was to be excerpting part of the novel to be published in an upcoming issue. Brown saw it by accident, having read it then a few days brought it to the attention of his partner Richard D. Zanuck, subsequently obtaining the rights to the book at the end of the year. Director Steven Spielberg said that when he first read the novel, he found himself rooting for the shark because the human characters were so unlikeable. There was a lot of sub plots in the book that was cut from the screenplay and even Peter Benchley eventually liked how cutting the subplots from the novel allowed for the characters to be fleshed out properly. Steven wanted the movie to be different. Because the film the director envisioned was so dissimilar to Peter Benchley’s novel, Steven Spielberg asked Richard Dreyfuss not to read it. Steven Spielberg always considered Jurassic Park a sequel to Jaws, but on land. People saw differences though, where the latter focused on character development as much as on its creature, while the former only used the dinosaurs to sell the film, and not the characters. As far as monsters go, the shark in Jaws is pretty scary, as it has kept whole generations from going into the ocean for decades. The shark was ranked the eighteenth greatest villain on the AFI’s list of 100 Heroes and Villains.

Top 15 Val Kilmer Movies

 

Over the years I’ve really enjoyed Val Kilmer and his movies.  I find him to be very funny in person, as you can see from any interview he’s ever done or if you’ve ever seen any of his blooper reels…but his acting is top notch too. He’s gotten a bit of a bad rap over the years, but I can appreciate that he acknowledges that he could have been easier to work with at times over the years. He’s mellowed a lot with age and by all accounts a real joy to be around for the most part, engaging, funny and authentic.

Here’s my top 15 movies that feature Val Kilmer:

15 – Comanche Moon (2008)val-kilmer-comanche-moon

Great cast, interesting western.  Kilmer once said that he would play in a bad western on a great horse any day and this mini-series can live up to that assessment. It’s a Larry McMurtry story, with his characters from the Lonesome Dove series and stars the ever likable Steve Zahn as well as Karl Urban, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Linda Cardellini, and Rachel Griffiths. Some of the scenes were filmed on Val Kilmer’s ranch in New Mexico. Val Kilmer’s work with the New Mexico Film Investment Program over the years fueled a nearly 40-fold growth in the state’s annual film production revenue, from $3 million in 2002, up to $117 million in 2006.

14 – Top Gun (1986)val-kilmer-top-gun

This film would probably be in the top 5 on most people’s lists for Val Kilmer, but I’ve never liked it over some of his other movies.  Besides, I’m not sure if you would consider, Top Gun to be “his” movie…but he sure is cool in it.  Originally, Kilmer did not want to be in this film, but was forced to as he had contractual obligations. However, it became one of his most iconic roles in his career. His humor shines through and his perchance to improv while on the set, when the guys, as students, were first being spoken to by Charlie in the hanger, Maverick explains that he gave “the bird” to a MiG. She asks how he saw the MiG up close, and he says he was flying inverted. Right then, Val Kilmer as Ice coughs “bullsh*t” and the guys laugh. The “bullsh*t” line is ad-libbed. According to co-star Anthony Edwards, “A lot of the humor was discovered at the moment. The script was skeletal.”

13 – Batman Forever (1995)val-kilmer-baman-forever

Some people don’t like this Batman movie, but I loved it. How can you go wrong with Val Kilmer as Batman and then a cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Chris O’Donnell and Drew Barrymore. (most people at this point, go, “Drew Barrymore?”, yep, she’s in there, take a closer look.) Most of Val Kilmer’s bad press comes from this movie as he didn’t get along with director Joel Schumacher that well. I think the moments where he could have been a little more helpful in the filmmaking are blown way out of proportion over the years. He has said later, “I probably complained more when I was younger. The movie industry can be frustrating but I think sometimes I could have been more helpful, approaching a film as a partnership rather than being critical of a director’s ignorance. I wasn’t sensitive to the fact that it’s very hard to direct.”

12 – Heat (1995)val-kilmer-heat

In this film, there is a huge shootout in the middle of the city between Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer and their crew and Al Pacino and the cops. They had to do a lot of training to be able to shoot the guns realistically. Kilmer was thrilled to learn that the moment in the gun battle scene where he runs out of bullets and rapidly changes his magazine is regularly shown to Marine recruits as an example of how to perform the action properly. Also, in order to prepare the actors for the roles of McCauley’s crew, Michael Mann took Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, and Robert De Niro to Folsom State Prison to interview actual career criminals. It helped that Danny Trejo, who plays a member of the crew, had in real life been an inmate at Folsom Prison. It’s interesting to note, before Danny Trejo was cast, both Edward Bunker, a writer, and Trejo were hired to be armed robbery consultants, since they both did time for these crimes and knew the ins and outs of performing such crimes. After meeting Trejo and talking with him at length, Michael Mann would later offer him a role in the film.

11 – Mindhunters (2004)

MINDHUNTERS, Val Kilmer, Will Kemp, Kathryn Morris, Jonny Lee Miller, Patricia Velasquez, Clifton Collins Jr., Christian Slater, LL Cool J, 2004, (c) Dimension

This little gem, directed by Renny Harlin, was caught in a studio’s bankruptcy and held for release up to two years later, even then it was silently released straight to video…but it’s actually a really fun film. Has some really good moments and has Jonny Lee Miller, LL Cool J, Christian Slater, Patricia Velasquez, Clifton Collins Jr, and Eion Bailey in it.  It reminds me of an FBI training version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which I love a lot. This one would be on the top of the list of films that were made with her plot device of people dying one by one in a remote place, trying to figure out which one of them is the killer. You can see my blog post on that by clicking here.

10 – At First Sight (1999)

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

This one has Val Kilmer playing a blind man that regains his sight. His sister is played by Kelly McGillis, his co-star from Top Gun. The cast is excellent with Nathan Lane, Steven Weber, Mira Sorvino, Bruce Davison and Ken Howard.  Val Kilmer prepared for his role by studying with a sculptor friend of his in New Mexico who had lost his sight in Vietnam. At 49:30 (NTSC) he is admiring a sculpture when he first visit’s Amy’s flat. Now, if you want to see how good an actor Kilmer is then watch this movie as he’s very good in it. There are a few times when I think he really should have gone up for an Oscar nomination at the very least and this is one of those performances. Other performances where he deserved recognition would be as Doc Holliday in Tombstone and as Jim Morrison in The Doors.

9 – Top Secret! (1984)kilmer-top-secret

Kilmer’s first movie and it’s flat out hilarious! My brother and I love this movie. He’s so funny in this.  It’s done by Jim Abrahams and David Zucker right after they did Airplane and Police Squad…so they were really on a roll. You can thank his casting in this film to Kilmer’s first Broadway acting role in 1983 in a play called Slab Boys which also starred Kevin Bacon, Brian Benben, Sean Penn, and Jackie Earle Haley. Kilmer would sing all of the Nick Rivers songs in the film himself, which would help him later when he decided to do The Doors.

8 – Ghost and the Darkness (1996)val-kilmer-ghost-and-the-darkness

This is based on a true story and is quite a good thriller. It’s about 2 lions that start to hunt and attack construction workers on a railroad track in Africa. The title of the movie is the nicknames for the 2 lions. Michael Douglas’s character Remington is fictionalized for the movie. In real life, Val Kilmer’s character John Patterson killed both lions (both nearly nine feet long). The real Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson published a book about his experiences, titled “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo“, which the movie is based on. The book is still available after nearly 100 years, and well worth reading.  Originally, the movie was only to be produced by Michael Douglas, with Kilmer as the lead character, but somewhere in pre-production he insisted on having the Remington character created for him and as filming progressed his part was widened to what is in the film now. He eventually got top billing. Despite having top billing, Douglas still doesn’t appear on screen until 45 minutes into the movie.

7 – Red Planet (2000)sizemore-kilmer-red-planet

This is a really good sci-fi thriller that again seemed to be released straight to video, but is definitely worth finding, if you haven’t seen it. It has another fun cast with Tom Sizemore, Carrie-Anne Moss, Benjamin Bratt, Terence Stamp and Simon Baker.  It didn’t help the release of the film that another Mars movie was in production at the time and often gets confused with it; Mission To Mars. It also didn’t help that the movie’s release date was pushed back twice. The original release date was slated March 31, then it was pushed back to June 16, and again it was pushed back to November 10. Studio officials said it was due to the movie’s extensive, expensive special-effects work.

6 – Real Genius (1985)val-kilmer-real-genius

Now, here’s a movie that my brother and I just love, but if you were to take Val Kilmer out of the movie, then we wouldn’t even like it probably, he’s that good in it. He really stands out and it’s this movie that convinced us that he was going to be a big star. I think the studio knew it too, that why the title seems to refer to him and all the posters feature him by himself, when he isn’t even the main character. The marketing strictly pushed him as the whole film.

5 – The Doors (1991)val-kilmer-the-doors

The singing that Kilmer does in the film is so close to the real Jim Morrison that even the real band members of the Doors couldn’t tell a version of a song sung by Morrison than that of Kilmer. In one scene during the filming of the movie, Kilmer broke his arm badly when he performed a jump from the stage into the crowd. The stuntman failed to catch him, leaving Kilmer with an abnormal growth on his right elbow. The growth is clearly visible in Heat, when McCauley discovers Shiherlis sleeping in his living room and begins briefing him on their itinerary. Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan were also in Top Gun together. Incidentally Kilmer worked with director Oliver Stone on this film and Tom Cruise worked with Stone on Born on the Fourth of July.

4 – The Saint (1997)elizabeth-shue-val-kilmer-the-saint

I just like this movie, even though a lot of people who loved the Saint TV show was disappointed with it. Val Kilmer got to use several disguises in the film, which I thought were a lot of fun.  Plus it had, Elizabeth Shue…what’s not to like?  Fun Fact – the poetry written by Simon Templar’s disguised-long-haired artist character, Thomas Moore, was actually written by Val Kilmer himself.  Kilmer decided to do this movie instead of Batman and Robin. It was the first big-screen Saint film since the 1950s. Plans for a Saint film date back to the 1980s, when Pierce Brosnan was reported to be a leading contender for the Templar role in a Saint movie that was to be produced by Roger Moore, the original TV Saint. This project never materialized. The Saint (Simon Templar) over the years has been played by Vincent Price (over the radio), Roger Moore on TV, Louis Hayward, George Sanders, Hugh Sinclair, Felix Marten, Jean Marais, Simon Dutton, and Ian Ogilvy at the movies.

3 – Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)val-kilmer-robert-downey-jr-kiss-kiss-bang-bang

Anyone who wants to see how truly funny and spontaneous Val Kilmer can be should watch the blooper real to this movie. Robert Downey Jr., who is incredibly witty in his own right has a hard time keeping up to the laughs Kilmer produces. Val Kilmer met Robert Downey Jr. for the first time at a Hollywood party. A week later he received the screenplay for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and agreed to do it before he’d even finished reading it. Upon agreeing, and much to his delight, he was informed that Downey Jr had already been cast. As a sign of support to Robert Downey Jr.’s recovery from alcohol and drugs, Val Kilmer refused to drink during the entire production. I’m a big Raymond Chandler fan and I learned that Shane Black read several stories by Raymond Chandler when writing this script. As a result, the story is divided into chapters and the chapter titles come from Chandler works. Specifically: 1. “Trouble is My Business”, 2. “The Lady in the Lake”, 3. “The Little Sister”, 4. “The Simple Art of Murder”, and Epilogue: “Farewell, My Lovely”. The title makes reference to James Bond, Thunderball where a song was produced and recorded for the film called, “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” has since become a slang description of the James Bond-style spy genre. The film’s original title was “You’ll Never Die in This Town Again”. When Harmony is seen on the bus leaving Indiana at age 16, she’s asleep with the Johnny Gossamer book, “You’ll Never Die in This Town Again” in her lap.

2 – Willow (1988)marmartigan-2

Here’s pretty much his only fantasy movie, but it’s a great one. He plays a swordsman Madmartigan, a rogue and a really fun character. He had a real fun time working on this film with George Lucas, Ron Howard and Warwick Davis and met his future wife Joanne Whalley on. His comedy really came into play again on this one, and it’s documented that a lot of his dialogue is improvised. willow-poster

1 – Tombstone (1993)tombstone-val-kilmer-kurt-russell

This movie flat out rocks with a great cast of Kurt Russell, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Booth, Charlton Heston, Michael Biehn, Jason Priestley, Dana Delaney, Billy Bob Thornton, Thomas Haden Church and Stephen Lang. Kilmer would go on to say, “I liked being Doc Holliday. It’s fun to be insightful and aristocratic, to stand up for your friend and make sacrifices for him. It was fun to be arrogant like he was and have the goods to back it up. He was a very noble character. Although, let’s not forget, he did kill a lot of people.” Val Kilmer has also been quoted as saying that screenwriter Kevin Jarre insisted the actors wear real wool costumes, in accordance with the time period. In the Birdcage Theater scene, Val Kilmer says, a thermometer was placed on the set, and it read 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Kilmer suggested jokingly that this was the reason Doc Holliday killed so many people: “It’s just, like, he wore wool in the summer, in the Arizona territory, and that made him mad.”

Val Kilmer practiced for a long time on his quick-draw speed, and gave his character a Southern Aristocrat accent. The expression “I’m your huckleberry” spoken by Doc means “I’m the perfect man for the job.” It could indeed be a reference to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, then known as the sidekick of Tom Sawyer before Huck got his own book. The phrase also refers, rather ominously, to the pallbearers who carry a coffin or casket to the actual grave site & specifically the one elected to sit, completely sober, in case the grave bell rings. So saying, “I’m your huckleberry ” could also be a threat like “I’ll put you in your grave.” It’s interesting to me that this would be attributed to Mark Twain as later on Twain would be an inspiration to Kilmer and he would go on to write and star in 2 plays about the writer, and star as Twain himself.

Top 15 Gene Wilder Movies

 

Many of us were shocked to hear of Gene Wilder’s death this week due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease, and so it’s given us a chance to pause and think about this great actor and comedian. It was interesting to me listen to a recent interview of his and he said that he really didn’t consider himself to be a comedian as he didn’t find himself to be very funny. That may be true, but to us, he was hilarious. Here is my list of his top 15 movies, let’s see if your list would be similar to mine:

15.  Thursday’s Game (1974)Thursday's Game

This would be a banner year for Gene Wilder as 3 of the movies on this list were released in 1974. 2 of them would be considered to be “classics” to most people. Classify this one as a forgotten little gem. Thursday’s Game was released as a TV movie and starred Gene with a great cast of comedians with Bob Newhart, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Nancy Walker, Valerie Harper, Norman Fell, Rob Reiner and Martha Scott. The movie is about two guys who’ve been going to a Thursday night poker game for years, when suddenly a disagreement breaks up the game. The two guys then decide to keep getting together every Thursday night doing different things, under the pretense that the game is still going on. When the wives find out they are upset and wondering what they’ve been doing all that time. The budget for this film was so tight that the wardrobe department was practically non-existent. According to Gene Wilder, he and co-star Bob Newhart had to make do with their actual clothes.

14.  The Producers (1967)Producers

We mention the Producers in another blog, CLICK HERE TO READ THAT BLOG POST.  Mel Brooks is almost synonymous with Gene Wilder as they made 3 movies together. These 3 are almost always mentioned as their top 3 movies respectively.  That wasn’t always the case, as the Producers flopped initially but found new life when Mel made it into a smash hit on Broadway. Now, of course, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder were great in this but, Kenneth Mars is also really fantastic in this as well. I talk about him in a blog CLICK HERE.

13.  Haunted Honeymoon (1986)haunted-honeymoon

I find Dom Deluise to be hilarious, but put him in drag and he’s drop dead funny. Gene and Dom appeared in 4 movies together. Now, if you don’t know already, Gene Wilder was a wonderful writer and director in his own right and this is one of the films he wrote and directed. It also stars his then wife and comedian Gilda Radner. This is a notable entry also because it was Gilda’s last movie before she died of cancer. It did not do well at the box office, but I like it because of the 3 actors and I especially like the scenes from the radio show.

12.  Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975)the-adventures-of-sherlock-holmes-smarter-brother

Gene reunites with Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman in this gem that he also wrote and directed after they did Young Frankenstein. Favorites of mine, Dom Deluise, Leo McKern and Roy Kinnear round out the cast! Originally, Gene tried to get Mel Brooks to direct this film as well, after they did Young Frankenstein, but he declined and convinced Gene that he could direct it himself. Gen would go on to direct 4 movies and 1 segment of a 5th one. This one is my favorite of all the films he directed.

11.  Death of a Salesman (1966)deathofasalesman

Up until Gene did the made-for-tv version of Death of a Salesman in 1966, he only had acted in a handful of TV shows. It was this film that ultimately put him on the path of stardom. This movie was relatively forgotten over time but had some very strong performances and included some very fine actors with Lee J. Cobb leading the cast. In his autobiography “Timebends”, Arthur Miller says that Lee J. Cobb was his favorite Willy Loman. The original Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller opened at the Morosco Theater on February 10, 1949, ran for 742 performances and won the 1949 Tony Award (New York City) for the Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize. Lee J. Cobb recreated his stage role 17 years later in this television production.

10.  Murder in a Small Town (1999)murder in a small town

Gene Wilder would write 8 movies over his career and a segment of a 9th one. This is the 2nd to the last one he would write and was 1 of 2 mysteries featuring his Cash Carter character for A&E. I enjoy a good mystery and for some reason I really like it when my mysteries are a little understated as these two mysteries are. This one is about a widowed theatre director who moves to a small Connecticut town where he gets involved in solving the murder of a millionaire, who was the most despised man in town. Gene is very good in this.

9.  Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)start the revolution without me

When 1 Gene Wilder is not enough, we get two! This one has Gene and Donald Sutherland playing two mismatched sets of identical twins – one aristocrat, one peasant – who mistakenly exchange identities on the eve of the French Revolution. Gene Wilder originally wanted Charles Grodin to play the part of Charles/Pierre, but Grodin declined, having committed to directing the original Broadway production of Lovers and Other Strangers, which would have been really fun to see, but Donald does a great job. Gene liked this film especially because he got to fence. Gene was already adept with a sword from his days on his college fencing team.

8.  Bonnie and Clyde (1967)bonnie-clyde-gene-laughing

In less than a year after his appearance in Death of a Salesman, Gene would be cast in 2 films Bonnie and Clyde and The Producers. He would never look back. In Bonnie and Clyde, he got to work with Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Denver Pyle and Michael J. Pollard. This was technically his theatrical feature film debut. Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder would later appear together in Young Frankenstein (1974). Hackman had a small, uncredited cameo as the blind hermit while Wilder portrayed the title character.

7.  Stir Crazy (1980)

We talk about the greatest comedy teams of all time in a previous blog post, CLICK HERE TO VIEW THAT BLOG…but definitely one of the best comedy teams of all time would have to be Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. They hit the list with 3 of their collaborations…almost 4, more on that in a sec…Stir-Crazy

Sidney Poitier directed this movie, and enjoyed working with Gene and Richard, even though Richard was sometimes difficult to work with on this production due to his frequent drug use. When they clicked, they were quite funny.  Sidney would let them improvise during scenes for the movie. This is one of the four movies Pryor and Wilder teamed together, and was the most successful of the four at the box-office. There was no doubting their second match-up was an all-around success. “Our instincts seem to coalesce. The difference, this time, is that ‘Stir Crazy’ is an out-and-out comedy while Silver Streak (1976) was a mixture of mystery, adventure and romance”. Pryor interjected: “You might say that our Pryor picture was a ball but this one is Wilder”. Wilder responded: “You might,” needles Wilder, “But you’ll say anything”.

6.  Blazing Saddles (1974)

Full shot of Cleavon Little as Bart offering whiskey bottle for Gene Wilder as Jim, both seated in sheriff's office. PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Here’s the almost in that last paragraph…believe it or not, Richard Pryor was set to play the role that eventually went to Clevon Little in Blazing Saddles. Richard Pryor even wrote some of the script with Mel Brooks. Although, Gene Wilder was not the original choice for his role either. They had cast and went into production with Gig Young, but he was coming off of alcohol and couldn’t function properly and Mel had to call upon his friend Gene to fly out last second to fill in, as a personal favor to him. One of the best comedy pairings of all time almost happened, two years before they finally appeared together in Silver Streak.

5.  Young Frankenstein (1974)young frankenstein

First film written by Gene Wilder and the only film directed by Mel Brooks, that Mel didn’t write. He didn’t direct anything he didn’t also write, but Gene talked him into directing as a personal favor to him. According to Mel Brooks (in the commentary for Spaceballs (1987)) when Gene Wilder came on to Blazing Saddles at the last minute as a favor to Mel, he requested that Mel Brooks do “his” movie idea next; that movie turned out to be this film. It was a perfect match. Gene Wilder has stated that this is his favorite of all the films he’s made. The cast and especially Mel Brooks had so much fun and were so upset when principal photography was almost completed, that Mel added scenes to continue shooting.

4.  See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)See no evil hear no evil

I forgot Kevin Spacey was in this with Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor and Joan Severance. Gene Wilder almost wasn’t in this movie. Per his autobiography, he turned the script down twice (due to its treatment of the deaf and the blind). He intended to do the same when offered it a third time, but his agent talked him into meeting with TriStar (the studio behind the film). The TriStar people asked Gene to re-write the script for himself and Richard Pryor, which he agreed to do…and the rest is history. Gene Wilder went to the NY League for the Hard of Hearing to study for his role. There he was assigned to speech pathologist Karen Webb, who would ultimately become his fourth wife. They were married 25 years, up until his death. With its dead body murder plot and villainous crime characters, the movie returned director Arthur Hiller and stars Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor to the suspense-adventure-comedy genre that had made their earlier picture Silver Streak a success around thirteen years earlier.

3.  Frisco Kid (1979)The_Frisco_Kid

Now this one is probably the biggest surprise on the list, but it’s just so under-appreciated! Not only is Gene Wilder pitch-perfect in this film as a Jewish Rabbi, Harrison Ford plays an old school cowboy like he was born to it. I just love this movie. In his autobiography, Gene Wilder says that John Wayne was offered the part that was eventually played by Harrison Ford. Wayne loved the role and was eager to work with Wilder. However, an agent tried to offer Wayne less than his usual fee and the legendary actor turned the film down. The sad thing about this movie is that it was a flop when released and has had a very small but devoted following on VHS and DVD…but it’s a wonderful film!

2.  Silver Streak (1976)Silver-Streak

One of five movies where actor Gene Wilder plays a man wrongly accused of committing a crime. The films include Silver Streak (1976), The Frisco Kid (1979), Stir Crazy (1980), Hanky Panky (1982), and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). Actor Gene Wilder loved his part because he could get to do scenes which were fitting of Errol Flynn doing action or Cary Grant being romantic. When meeting Gene Wilder after having seen Silver Streak, Cary Grant asked him if the script had been in anyway inspired by North by Northwest (1959). As Wilder admitted it was correct, Grant then added, “I knew it! Have you noticed that each time you take ordinary people, say, like you and me, then take them in a situation way above their heads, it makes a great thriller?” First of two consecutive comedy thrillers written by Colin Higgins. The second released two years later was Foul Play (1978). Higgins conceived “Silver Streak” in mid 1974 when he was traveling by train from LA to Chicago. We talk about Foul Play in another blog post, CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

On a sad note…Director Arthur Hiller and co-star Gene Wilder died within 12 days of each other.

1  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

This is number 1 for me. It’s his most iconic role and to be honest, one of my favorite films of all time. willy wonka

According to director Mel Stuart’s “Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka”, when Gene Wilder walked in to audition, Stuart knew before he’d even uttered a single word that he had found his Willy Wonka. The audition convinced him even further, so when Wilder finished and left the room, Stuart 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!” Producer David L. Wolper, however, was furious because he hadn’t yet had the chance to negotiate a fee. After reading the script, Gene Wilder said he would take the role of Willy Wonka under one condition: that he would be allowed to limp, then suddenly somersault in the scene when he first meets the children. When the director asked why, Gene Wilder 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?”, and Gene Wilder said “I’m afraid that’s the truth.” Even Julie Dawn Cole was fooled by the scene in which Willy limps out of his factory to greet the Golden Ticket winners. She mentions in the DVD commentary that she thought that Gene Wilder had injured his leg for real (and that the filming would have to be temporarily halted because of it). This resulted in her being just as stunned by Willy’s somersault as the audience is.

Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, got very close to Gene while filming. He later told ABC News, “As a young actor filming ‘Willy Wonka,’ I had the rare privilege of working with Gene who I greatly admired,” he continued. “He became my mentor and personal friend. For that I will always be grateful. So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

Watch Howard Ashman Direct Jodie Benson in Disney’s The Little Mermaid

 

This clip is a treasure in that it really shows how Howard Ashman was able to pull the most amazing performance from Jodie Benson who plays Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid for the song “Part of Your World”.

You’ll see what a really great director can do to enhance what an Actor brings to a particular moment in time. “Part of Your World” has always been my favorite song of any Disney musical and I especially love how the song has such an intimate way about it when Ariel seems so conversational and almost whispers in spots. Now I know how they got to such a wonderful place with that song and it seems like so much work went into something that everyone takes for granted as something that just feels so right — almost a perfect little moment in time.Howard Ashman

It’s sad to me that this wonderful musical director and writer was taken way too soon at only 40 years old due to AIDS. He partnered up with Alan Menken and created Little Shop of Horrors and then went on to write songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin before dying way too young. You can see in this clip how talented he was and how passionate about the music he was. It’s easy to see here where his talent would have lead him. Ashman was nominated for 3 Tony’s and won 2 Grammys, 2 Golden Globes and 2 Oscars for the music of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast in his short time.

Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) accept their Oscars for Best Original Song for "Under the Sea," from the film THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989). Behind them are presenters Paula Abdul and Dudley Moore. Credit: Long Photography / ©A.M.P.A.S.
Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) accept their Oscars for Best Original Song for “Under the Sea,” from the film THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989). Behind them are presenters Paula Abdul and Dudley Moore.
Credit: Long Photography / ©A.M.P.A.S.

In 1988, while working on The Little Mermaid, Ashman pitched to Disney the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin. After he wrote a group of songs with Menken and a film treatment, a screenplay was written by Linda Woolverton, who had worked on Beauty and the Beast. Then directors John Musker and Ron Clements joined the production. The story underwent many changes and some elements of the original treatment were dropped. Out of the 16 songs written for Aladdin, three of Howard’s songs ended up in the finished film, which was released after his death.aladdin

Ashman became a driving force during the early years of the Disney Renaissance. He would hold story meetings and said the animation and musical styles were made for each other which is why Disney needed to continue making musical movies. During early production of Aladdin, Ashman and Menken were approached to help turn Beauty and the Beast into a musical, as it started out being a straight animated movie, with no musical numbers. It was at this time that his health began to decline due to his illness. Regardless, he completed lyrical work on Beauty and the Beast before succumbing to AIDS. The film was released mere months after his death and includes this dedication, “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.” beauty and the beast

With all of his films, he was involved in casting actors with strong musical theater and acting backgrounds. He was responsible for the casting of Jodie Benson, up until then a Broadway actress. Not to diminish what Jodie brings to the performance, she is simply wonderful. She was the perfect choice for Ariel. Ashman and Benson worked together first on Broadway when he cast and directed her in the musical “Smile”, with music written by Marvin Hamlisch. Ironically enough, in that play she sang one of the songs written by Ashman, called “Disneyland”. Smile is considered a “lost” musical because no official cast recording was ever made. However, there does exist a demo CD by Broadway Original cast for Samuel French Publishing.little mermaid and jodie bensonjodie benson

Failed Movies Make the Best Broadway Musicals

 

So what do you do with a movie that fails at the box office? Why not make it into a Broadway Musical! It’s actually fitting that one of the most popular of these is a film about making a bomb, that just happens to turn out to be a big hit…The Producers.Producers

In 1967, Mel Brooks wrote and directed The Producers, starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Kenneth Mars also has a great role in the film, I wrote about it in another blog, you can ready that here… The film initially was not very well liked, people didn’t know what to make of it. Actress Estelle Winwood said about the film – “Oh, that dreadful picture. I can’t bear to watch it, even on a small television. I must have needed the money – living in Hollywood weakens one’s motives. It reminds me of the saying that nobody ever went broke underestimating the American public’s taste.”ProducersLaneBroderick

Regardless, years later when Mel Brooks was considering adapting one of his movie into a play he decided to adapted The Producers as a Broadway stage musical and it opened at the St James Theater in April 2001, with Nathan Lane as Bialystock and Matthew Broderick as Bloom. The renowned musical went on to run for 2502 performances and won a record-breaking 12 Tony awards. A new movie which included Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick was released in 2005, but that one didn’t fare too well either. It’s better as a stage play.victor_victoria

Another one to take the stage was Victor Victoria. Originally written and directed by Blake Edwards in 1982, starring James Garner, Julie Andrews and Robert Preston, the movie did not do well. We absolutely loved the film, however. It’s well suited for the transition to stage, as it’s about a struggling female soprano who finds work playing a male female impersonator, but it complicates her personal life. Robert Preston is just amazing in the film and really steals the show with his musical number at the end of the movie. Robert Preston did the final musical number in one take, which explains why he was so clearly out of breath, physically stressed, and sweating profusely during the second half of the number. So it’s very easy to see it transferred to Broadway.Victor-Victoria-Play

In 1995, Blake Edwards decided to transfer the movie to Broadway and convinced his wife Julie Andrews to reprise her role. The hit Broadway musical Victor Victoria opened at the Marquis Theater on October 25, 1995 and ran for 734 performances. Liza Minnelli substituted for Julie Andrews while she was on vacation and Raquel Welch took over for her when she left the show.xanadu

In 1980, Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck and Gene Kelly starred in the box office bomb, Xanadu. Again, we loved the movie but it was a huge fail. Famously received the one sentence review: “In a word, Xana-don’t”. I think the main problem is that MTV ruined that movie. What I mean by that is, it’s totally designed to be a musical, but MTV was so popular at the time that they put all the musical numbers into the music, with none of the characters actually singing the songs. It’s just in the background and designed as like music video numbers scattered throughout the film. They dance plenty, but they never really sing.  When I ask people about the movie, it’s funny that people don’t realize that no one in the film ever really sings any of the songs until the end of the movie when Olivia is on stage at the roller rink.  The Broadway stage version opened at the Helen Hayes Theater on July 10, 2007, and ran for 512 performances. It was nominated for the 2008 Tony Awards for Best Musical and Book.spamalot

One of the most unusual film-to-Broadway adaptations would have to be Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In 1975, the Monty Python’s Flying Circus cast wrote and directed a small independent film called Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It did fairly well at the box office but really achieved cult status on video and DVD. It’s a very funny but strange film. The theatrical release contains 527 jokes, including 42 in the opening credits, for an average of one joke every 10.5 seconds. According to Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones got the directing job because they were the only ones who were interested in it. The movie was adapted as a Broadway musical in 2006 called Spamalot. The Broadway play was a huge hit. The original 2005 Broadway production, directed by Mike Nichols, won three Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical of the 2004–2005 season and received 14 Tony Award nominations. During its initial run of over 1,500 performances it was seen by more than two million people and grossed over $175 million.newsies_musical_main-logo

Newsies was another musical disaster for Disney initially, but managed to make for a very fine Broadway play.  It was directed by Kenny Ortega, who would head up the very successful High School Musical series a few years later. (High School Musical, being way too successful to consider making into a Broadway play has never made the transition…) Newsies was released in 1992 with pre-Batman Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Ann-Margret  and Robert Duvall. At the time, this was one of the lowest grossing live action movies in Walt Disney studio history. The movie was a critical and commercial flop upon its initial theatrical release. However, it gathered a cult following after its home video release, eventually made its filming budget back on rentals, and was deemed popular enough to be adapted into a stage musical, which premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2011. The musical had music and lyrics by Alan Menken (who composed the movie’s music as well) and Jack Feldman (the movie’s lyricist), and a new book by playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein. This musical moved to Broadway in March 2012 and closed over two years later; a North American tour also launched in 2014. The show went on to earn eight Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, winning Best Choreography and Best Original Score.Harispray

Now, Hairspray is another very unusual adaptation as the first movie in 1988 directed by John Waters was not a hit, but did moderately well and found cult status on Video and DVD, then was adapted into a very successful Broadway Play and then again translated into a very successful movie in 2007. The original was not a musical, which tells me that certain stories just lend themselves very well to being told as musicals. Jerry Stiller, who plays Wilbur Turnblad in this film, also appears in Hairspray (2007) as Mr. Pinky. Remade on the Broadway stage in 2002 as a musical by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, starring Harvey Fierstein (and later, Bruce Vilanch, Michael McKean and John Pinette) in the role of Edna Turnblad (played in the film by Divine) and Marissa Jaret Winokur in the role of Tracy Turnblad (played in the film by Ricki Lake) The musical opened at the Neil Simon Theater on August 15, 2002 and ran for 2641 performances. It won the 2003 Tony Award for Best Musical. Adam Shankman directed the 2007 film with John Travolta playing Edna and Nikki Blonsky playing Tracy. With $27.5 million, this had the best opening ever for a movie musical until Mamma Mia! (2008).little shop of horrors

Another film-to-broadway-back-to-film adaptation is Little Shop of Horrors. Low budget Independent producer Roger Corman and Charles B. Griffith. The shooting schedule for this film was two days and one night because Roger Corman had made a bet that he could make a movie in two days. Charles B. Griffith took a little more than that to write it. A young Jack Nicholson has only a small part as Farb’s masochistic patient, Wilbur Force. But later, as the actor’s career began to take off, he was prominently featured on the home-video releases to help generate interest in the film. The film was remade as a successful stage musical in 1982, by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman. (who would go on to do Disney’s The Little Mermaid and then many other successful animated musicals) The musical premiered Off-Off-Broadway in 1982 before moving to the Orpheum Theatre Off-Broadway, where it had a five-year run. It later received numerous productions in the U.S. and abroad, and a subsequent Broadway production. When it closed on November 1, 1987, after 2,209 performances, it was the third-longest running musical and the highest-grossing production in Off-Broadway history.little shop of horrors audrey seymour

Ellen Greene reprised her role from the play as Audrey in the 1986 movie of the musical. Frank Oz directed with Rick Moranis playing Seymour. Ellen Greene as Audrey (I) is the only member of the Off-Broadway cast to appear in this film. When she originated the role in 1982, it was her idea to wear a blond wig over her brunette curly hair. Howard Ashman originally saw Audrey as a brunette, based on Jackie Joseph’s look in the original The Little Shop of Horrors (1960).  The original script called for Audrey and Seymour to be eaten by Audrey II, just like in the stage play. Frank Oz reluctantly had it changed after negative reactions from test audiences. Oz claims that the difference between the success of the scene in the play and the same scene in the film is that there is no curtain call to remind the audience that the actors were okay.

 

Top 15 Fantasy Films of the 80’s

 

The 1980’s was a GREAT time for movie lovers. The studios and production companies were full of NEW ideas and willing to take risks to find and create great stories. We received a slew of fun fantasy films, some were really fantastic, then some not so fantastic. Here’s my list for my favorite 15 fantasy films of the 80’s:

15.  The Barbarians (1987)BB

Now, right up front…this is not a great movie. With that said, I totally enjoyed the movie when I first saw it in a movie theater. My father saved up for a decade to take his family on an 3 week European vacation and in that time we saw 1 movie in a french movie theater and YES, you guessed it…it was this film! Don’t ask me why we picked this one, we were 16 years old, looking for something in the action genre, because none of us wanted to read a lot of captions…and it features 2 twins, so to us at the time…win/win. As it turns out, I really enjoyed it. I will let you know that I do enjoy “cheesy” and “campy” as two adjectives for movies I enjoy. If you have a tendency to roll your eyes and switch the channel when you experience these things then, some of the films I present in this blog post are simply not going to be your cup of tea.

The best thing by far in this movie is the villain character actor, Richard Lynch. He pops up in another film on this list, a really good actor and mostly typecast as the bad guy in his films due to his gravelly voice and to the fact that his face was severely burn-scarred. In 1967, after taking LSD, he set himself on fire in Central Park. He managed to turn into a career, something that would have stunted so many other people. The Barbarians was directed by Italian director Ruggero Deodato, who had a reputation as a nasty director. Richard said of him, “Ahh, Ruggero Deodato. Yeah, he’s all bullsh#t. He’s a little man, he’s short, and he’s got a big mouth. But I love Ruggero — I had more fun working with him than anybody else. I know all about his crassness and his brutality, but you can’t let it reach you. He’s very talented, and he can be very funny — you have to have a thick skin with him. He’ll test your mettle, but when he knows that you know he’s bullshitting you … I had a lot of good times with him.”

14.  Excalibur (1981)john-boorman-excalibur

Directed by John Boorman, and starring a slew of great actors that only got better with age, this is a very ambitious re-telling of the Arthurian legend. John Boorman wanted the story to be the focus of the movie rather than the actors. Therefore, he cast actors who were relatively unknown at the time to American audiences. Among them were Gabriel Byrne (Uther), Patrick Stewart (Leondegrance),Liam Neeson (Gawain), Helen Mirren (Morgana) and Nicholas Clay (Launcelot). Only Nicol Williamson (Merlin) was relatively familiar to American moviegoers. John Boorman was originally aiming at making a movie based on “The Lord of the Rings”. However, he did not acquire the rights, and decided to make this movie instead. He has gone on to say that he loved Peter Jackson’s vision for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, that were filmed much later and was thrilled when someone finally made the movies.

13.  Dragonslayer (1981)dragonslayer

This one is a Disney film directed by Matthew Robbins, who my brother and I liked from directing Corvette Summer and then later from The Legend of Billie Jean and Batteries Not Included. The movie as about a young wizard apprentice who goes on a quest to kill the dragon Virmithrax Pejorative, who has been eating the sacrificial maidens from a nearby town. Slow moving movie, but it has some good parts. George R.R. Martin, author of the “A Song Of Ice And Fire” novels upon which the HBO series Game of Thrones (2011) is based, has stated that Vermithrax Pejorative is “the best dragon ever shown on film.”

12.  Krull (1983)Krull

My brother and I loved the hero’s weapon in this…it looked like a giant throwing star. We would spend hours throwing frisbees at each other in the yard mimicking this movie. Directed by Peter Yates and also stars Liam Neeson in another of his seldom seen roles before he made it truly big. In this film, a maiden is kidnapped by an alien race and a band of medieval misfits  ventures out to rescue her. It can be thought of as a film where a bunch of sword wielding knights break into a fortress to fight a laser-shooting alien race, only with fire Clydesdales and a cyclops added for good measure. Show-business trade-paper ‘Variety’ described the movie as Excalibur (1981) meets Star Wars (1977)”. The movie was actually massive, taking up over 10 sound stages at Pinewood Studios. It has some great creative ideas and inventive scenes…at least in theory. Execution is a bit clunky, but you can definitely watch this and appreciate the scope of what they were trying to do.

Legendary stuntman and stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong (I write about him again later for the Indiana Jones series here) scoured allover the United Kingdom for 16 Clydesdale horses to purchase and then train. Moreover, horses from the Queen’s Household Cavalry near Buckingham Palace were borrowed and brought to the studio’s back-lot.

11.  Legend (1985)Legend

This has Ridley Scott directing Tom Cruise in their first fantasy film, but the stand-out here is definitely Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness. It also features some of the best make-up prosthetics you will ever see on film, by make-up artist Rob Bottin and his crew. He would later be nominated for an Oscar for his work on this film, but this makeup was really hard on Tim Curry. Tim Curry had to wear a large, bull-like structure atop his head with three-foot fiberglass horns supported by a harness underneath the makeup. The horns placed a strain on the back of the actor’s neck because they extended forward and not straight up. Bottin and his crew finally came up with horns that were lightweight enough. At the end of the day, he spent an hour in a bath in order to liquefy the soluble spirit gum. At one point, Curry got too impatient and claustrophobic and pulled the makeup off too quickly, tearing off his own skin in the process. Ridley Scott felt both horrified and sorry for Curry. Scott decided he didn’t want Curry to put more make up on his torn skin, so he shot around the actor for a week.

With the exception of Tom Cruise and Mia Sara, all the principal actors spent hours every morning having extensive makeup applied. Between 8 and 12 prosthetic pieces were applied individually to each face, then made up, molded and grafted into the actor’s face so that the prosthetics moved with their muscles. Each person needed three makeup artists working on them for an average time of three and a half hours spent applying prosthetics. Out of all the characters, the most challenging one in terms of makeup was Darkness.

10.  Labyrinth (1986)Labyrinth

The first of 2 Jim Henson movies to make the list, this one features David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. This one also features some incredible songs by Bowie. Bowie was keen to make a children’s movie, he liked the concept and found the script amusing and of more interest to him than many other contemporary special effects movies. The movie is about a selfish 16-year old girl who is given 13 hours to solve a labyrinth and rescue her baby brother when her wish for him to be taken away is granted by the Goblin King.

9.  Dark Crystal (1982)The Dark Crystal

This one was co-directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Frank Oz would go on to direct so many good films over the next 20 years. Hard to believe he started out as a puppeteer, but he’s so creative and talented, it taught him a lot of the things he needed to become a top director. This movie is about a Gelfling who embarks on a quest to find the missing shard of a magical crystal in order to restore order to his world. All the characters in the film are all puppets. Conceptual designer Brian Froud was behind the look and feel of virtually every aspect of the film’s production, from creatures and landscapes right down to the font of the opening title. In total, it took up five years of his life. He was also the conceptual designer for Labyrinth. Froud and puppet designer Wendy Midener met on the set of the Dark Crystal and were later married.

8.  NeverEnding Story (1984)neverending story

This film is about a troubled boy who dives into a wondrous fantasy world through the pages of a mysterious book. This is directed by Wolfgang Petersen, and is a very inventive movie. It’s a favorite of a lot of the kids who grew up in the 80’s. It’s actually a film shot and produced in Germany, based on a book by the very popular author Michael Ende.

7.  Beastmaster (1982)beastmaster

Beastmaster is a sword-and-sorcery fantasy about a young man’s search for revenge. Armed with supernatural powers, the handsome hero and his animal allies wage war against marauding forces. Directed by Don Coscarelli and starring Marc Singer and Tanya Roberts. Producer Dino De Laurentiis liked the movie and offered Don Coscarelli to direct Conan the Destroyer (1984). Coscarelli declined because he thought the script was quite bad. Hence the reason that movie, doesn’t make this list. Coscarelli decided to set the story in a sort of Bronze Age milieu because he was a long time fan of Steve Reeves, Ray Harryhausen and sword and sandal flicks. Ironically, Ray Harryhausen made this list next at number…

6.  Clash of the Titans (1981)THE KRAKEN CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)

This is a film adaption of the myth of Perseus and his quest to battle both Medusa and the Kraken monster to save the Princess Andromeda, directed by Desmond Davis and special effects by Ray Harryhausen. Funny thing about the title of the film, no actual Titans actually appear in the film as the “Titans” were the gods who preceded the Olympians in power. Kronos (also spelled Cronus) and Atlas were the most famous Titans. In the movie, the Titans are the Norse Kraken (who never appeared in Greek mythology at all) and Medusa (who was never considered a Titan by the Greeks).

5. Conan the Barbarian (1982)conan-the-barbarian

1982 was an amazing year as a lot of the films on this list were released in 1982 as well as ET, Blade Runner, The Thing, Poltergeist, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, Tron, First Blood, and Tootsie! Conan was directed by John Milius and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan. There’s a lot of stunts in this film, Arnold Schwarzenegger had weapons training, martial arts training, and horse riding lessons from specialists. He trained with an 11-pound broadsword two hours a day for three months, and learned how to handle one; each broadsword cost $10,000 and had to look weathered. He also learned climbing techniques, and how to fall and roll and jump from 15-feet in the air. John Milius made sure all of these were videotaped, and according to Schwarzenegger, they were just as intense as training for bodybuilding competitions. Franco Columbu was his trainer and was rewarded with a small part in the film. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandahl Bergman did their own stunts, as suitable body doubles couldn’t be found. Arnold Schwarzenegger modelled his performance as Conan after Steve Reeves and his performances as Hercules. Conan was created by Author Robert E. Howard.

4.  Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)sword and the sorcerer

This is the other film on the list that features the actor Richard Lynch. It’s actually my favorite Sword and Sandal film of all time. I think it’s even better than Conan, and it’s crazy to me that nobody knows about it. I even watched it recently and it totally holds up over time. This is simply a great little unknown film! It’s about a mercenary with a three-bladed sword who rediscovers his royal heritage’s dangerous future when he is recruited to help a princess foil the designs of a brutal tyrant and a powerful sorcerer in conquering a land. It stars Lee Horsely, who my brother and I loved as Matt Houston!

3.  Ladyhawke (1985)Layout 1

The real reason to watch this is Matthew Broderick. He’s just fantastic as the mouse, the thief that technically narrates the film. He is so good that I thought he should have been nominated for an Oscar that year.  The film is directed by the incredible Richard Donner and is also memorable for the score of the film by Andrew Powell and Alan Parsons from the Alan Parsons Project. They are my favorite “band” (in quotes because they’re not really a band, more like studio produced music, but still awesome). The movie is about Captain Etienne Navarre, who is a man on whose shoulders lie a cruel curse. Punished for loving each other, Navarre must become a wolf by night whilst his lover, Lady Isabeau, takes the form of a hawk by day. Together, with the thief Philippe Gaston, they must try to overthrow the corrupt Bishop and in doing so break the spell.

2.  Willow (1988)Willow

Ron Howard directed this fantasy film based on the story by George Lucas. You can really tell by this time that Ron Howard was going to be one of the very best directors ever. The film is about, Willow Ufgood, a reluctant dwarf who must play a critical role in protecting a special baby from an evil queen. George Lucas specifically wrote this film for Warwick Davis after meeting him on the set of Return of the Jedi (1983). The box office receipts were less than expected (but still very good when considering International and Video/DVD sales), so writer George Lucas continued Willow’s story in books rather than in movie sequels. The three books are collectively known as “The Chronicles of the Shadow War” and share a writers credit for Chris Claremont and Lucas. They are: “Shadow Moon” (1995), “Shadow Dawn” (1996) and “Shadow Star” (2000). I enjoyed Val Kilmer in this movie a great deal. I heard later that much of his dialogue for this film was ad-libbed by him. Various major film studios turned down the chance to distribute and co-finance it with Lucasfilm because they believed the fantasy genre was unsuccessful. This was largely due to films such Dragonslayer (1981), Krull (1983), Legend (1985) and Labyrinth (1986). (Argh! That’s almost half of my list!)

1.  The Princess Bride (1987)princessbride

The ultimate fantasy film and a lot of people’s favorite, including mine. Directed by Rob Reiner.  A lot of people think this is his finest film. The film is about the lovely Buttercup, who  is kidnapped by a ghastly gang intent on fermenting an international incident. They find they are pursued by the Dread Pirate Roberts who just might be Westley, her one true love. Also after everyone is nasty Prince Humperdinck to whom Buttercup is now betrothed but who seems to care little for her continued survival. The stage is set for swordfights, monsters, revenge and torture…and of course, true love. It has a fantastic cast which includes Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes, Christopher Guest, Andre The Giant, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Mel Smith, Wallace Shawn, Chris Sarandon, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Peter Cook and Carol Kane. Cary Elwes was cast because of what Rob Reiner called his Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn quality. Fairbanks and Flynn both played Robin Hood (Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922) (which I discuss in a blog post here) and Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) (which I discuss in a blog post here). Elwes would later spoof their performances in Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993). Ironically, the costume for Wesley as the Dread Pirate Roberts was designed after Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro (1920). You can see pictures of him in a blog I wrote here.

In order to create the Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times, Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin trained for months with Peter Diamond and Bob Anderson, who between them had been in the Olympics; worked on Bond, Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Star Wars films; and coached Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster. Every spare moment on set was spent practicing. Eventually, when they showed Rob Reiner the swordfight for the movie, he was underwhelmed and requested that it be at least three minutes long rather than the current one minute. They added steps to the set, watched more swashbuckling movies for inspiration, re-choreographed the scene, and ended up with a three minute and 10 second fight which took the better part of a week to film from all angles. This is my favorite scene in the movie.

 

 

 

Stunt Families: The Canutts

 

Everyone in the Industry seems to include legendary stuntman and action director, Yakima Canutt as a founding father of the American Stunt System that we have in place today. He helped create the systems, procedures and policies that keep stunt men and women safely working and producing some of the finest moments ever shot on film over the last 100 years.  Republic Pictures director William Witney said of him, “There will probably never be another stuntman who can compare to Yakima Canutt. He had been a world champion cowboy several times and where horses were concerned he could do it all. He invented all the gadgets that made stunt work easier. One of his clever devices was a step that attached to the saddle so that he had leverage to transfer to another moving object, like a wagon or a train. Another was the “shotgun,” a spring-loaded device used to separate the tongue of a running wagon from the horses, thus cutting the horses loose. It also included a shock cord attached to the wagon bed, which caused wheels to cramp and turn the wagon over on the precise spot that was most advantageous for the camera.”Yakima Canutt

In the book, Falling: How Our Greatest Fear Became Our Greatest Thrill, Garrett Soden describes that time like this, “In the five years between 1925 and 1930, fifty-five people were killed making movies, and more than ten thousand injured. By the late 1930s, the maverick stuntman willing to do anything for a buck was disappearing. Now under scrutiny, experienced stunt men began to separate themselves from amateurs by building special equipment, rehearsing stunts, and developing new techniques.” Through the years, Yakima and his fellow stunt performers were hurt and some killed, so several leaders in the Industry, including Yakima started to develop safer ways of doing things and started to create a lot of the new tools of the trade.Tap Canutt

In 1940, he started to direct the action on several pictures and a new role behind the camera was created.  That of the Action Director, which eventually became the Second Unit Director and Stunt Coordinator positions. He trained and organized his own set of stunt performers which he could count on to do the stunts safely and properly and they included his two sons Edward “Tap” Canutt and Harry Joe Canutt. Tap and Joe would become crucial elements in the stunt industry in their own right and would perform stunts in some of the biggest epics and films of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, which included, Ben Hur, El Cid, Ivanhoe, Spartacus, Knights of the Round Table, King Richard and the Crusaders, Swiss Family Robinson, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Khartoum, Where Eagles Dare and so many others.Joe Canutt

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

3 Amigos, Instant Classic

 

Steve Martin wrote Three Amigos (1986) (originally called The Three Caballeros) with Saturday Night Live Creator Lorne Michaels and Singer-Songwriter Randy Newman in 1980. Randy Newman also contributed 3 original songs for the film, but to this day, this remains to be the only screenplay he ever co-wrote. They planned on having Martin, Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi play the 3 main roles, but the movie got stuck in the creative process for a few years. Steven Spielberg considered directing this film in 1981, but chose ET instead. His cast would have been Steve Martin, Bill Murray and Robin Williams.3 amigos chevy chaseJohn Landis came on board to direct and Chevy Chase and Martin Short were cast. If Martin Short were unable to do it, Landis said that he would have cast Rick Moranis in his place. Landis was a favorite director of Lorne Michaels and had previously directed Saturday Night Live alum movies; Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, and Spies Like Us.  3 amigos martin short

The first part of the movie deals with a studio and the 3 amigos being fired. Fran Drescher filmed several scenes for this, but all of them were cut from the final film. Interestingly, there’s some fun references in the film at this time, like when the 3 amigos sneak back into the studio they cross a billboard advertising the movie, The Dueling Cavalier, which is the movie made by Don Lockwood and Lena Lamont in the 1952 classic “Singin’ in the Rain.”3 amigos steve martin

I have to add that the actor who played “El Guapo” was Alfonso Arau, and he is hilarious in the movie. He would actually go on to a successful directing career, directing Like Water For Chocolate, A Walk in the Clouds, and TV versions of Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons and John Grisham’s A Painted House.3 amigos alfonso arau

Overall, I love this film, but I do wonder what film we would have had if John Landis were allowed to finish the post production of the film, but the studio was worried about the negative publicity as John Landis was going through court proceedings regarding the deaths of actors Vic Marrow, Renee Chen, and My-ca Dinh Le on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie. That was an incredibly tragic accident, but I do think John Landis has proven himself to be a fantastic director and would have made an even better version of Three Amigos if he had been able to finish the film himself.

Highlander, 30 Year Anniversary

 

The first Highlander should really be considered…the only Highlander.  After all…There Can Be Only One. Besides, let’s face it, all the rest of them stink and by association have messed up a perfect thing.  The first one was glorious…great directing, great acting, great transitions and cinematography, great script…It’s just a perfect thing, all by itself.highlander-swords

Russell Mulcahy does a fantastic job with the direction of the film and I especially love the transitions from modern day to the past…they really add to the whole mood and atmosphere of the film. He’s got some really cool shots, like the camera swooping into a crowded wrestling arena to focus in on Connor MacLeod. Connor is played by Christopher Lambert and this is by far his best film, although my brother and I really liked him in a very over-looked little film called Fortress.  Michael Douglas, Kevin Costner, Sting , Mel Gibson and Patrick Swayze were all considered for the role of Connor Macleod and reportedly, Kurt Russell was actually cast in the role but later dropped out due to the insistence of Goldie Hawn.Highlander-1

Sean Connery does a very good job, as always and is fun as Connor’s mentor Ramirez. Lee Van Cleef, Clint Eastwood, Malcolm McDowell, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine and Peter O’Toole were considered for the role of Ramirez before Sean Connery was cast. Now, the real stand-out in the film is Clancy Brown, who steals every scene he is in and just chews up scenery like nobody I’ve ever seen before.  He’s just awesome as The Kurgan, Victor Kruger and is a top favorite actor of my brother and I ever since. When the film was in it’s early development, Scott Glenn and Roy Scheider were the top choices for the role of The Kurgan.highlander kruger

Also, who could forget the amazing music by Queen? Queen originally intended to record only one song for the film, but after viewing footage from the movie, they were inspired to write more. The band members each had a favorite scene and composed songs specifically for them. Brian May wrote “Who Wants to Live Forever” during the cab ride home after seeing the film, and Roger Taylor used the line “It’s a kind of magic” as the basis for the end title song.highlanderbdcap4_original