Gene Wilder’s version of “Willy Wonka” is a thing of legend. He made us laugh. He freaked us out (i.e. some of us were scarred for life after that infamous boat ride). He made us feel. Good. If a musical chocolate man wasn’t your thing. Perhaps a Young Frankenstein was more your speed. Maybe it was an aging gunslinger fighting the injustice of racism and greed across the lands. A washed up writer road tripping to California to make it big(ger). A Broadway producer hell-bent on making the worst performance of all time. Or maybe just a simple deaf guy on an adventure with his old blind pal, the late, great Richard Pryor. Whatever your flavor, Wilder seemed to be able to always deliver.
Inspiration, “…my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.”
Sadly, the time has come for Gene to retire to that great big candy store in the sky. Free from all the Wangdoodles, and Hornswogglers, and Snozzwangers, and rotten, Vermicious Knids. Wilder passed away today at the age of 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. “He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.” said his nephew in a press release. Well for me, he should have no fear. There’s plenty of Wilder still on my plate that I haven’t gotten around to yet. And I can still watch Willy Wonka 1000 more times and laugh just as hard as I did the first 1000 times I watched it.
So while there is still more to see, I’m saddened by this passing and the world will certainly miss his entertaining, big-hearted hysterics. Luckily, his legacy will live on and we really have nothing to frown about. You can rest in peace sir, knowing that you made a lot of children and adults very happy very many many years. And will continue to do so.
Famed British film and television star, Kenny Baker, died today at the age of 81 after a long battle with a respiratory illness and eventual lung failure.
Kenny Baker brought a lot of joy to people throughout the years. Obviously most prominently as the beloved R2-D2 from Star Wars. A role that never even reveals Baker’s face, his body or even his voice. One of only a couple(?) actors to portray a role through all six of the first Star Wars films (episodes IV – VI and episodes I – III). Besides Star Wars though, dude was in lot of films.
And strangely enough, I was just thinking the other day about how much I actually really like R2-D2 – especially as I get older. I appreciate the character’s limitations and how he overcomes them to always come through for his friends. He also seems to be a child at “heart” through all six films. He’s got a unique and interesting way of communicating and even if you can;t understand specifically what he’s saying, we can all understand him perfectly. In other words, he breaks language barriers around the globe. This sort of demeanor and personality mimics Baker’s outlook on life as I’ve been led to believe. Always smiling, always the optimist and always there for people.
Mark Hamill paid tribute to his friend today on Twitter:
As a younger boy, he was told that due to his dwarfism, he most likely would not live beyond puberty – medical innovation has come a long way since then. But here we are 81 years later and Mr. Baker lived a long and full life that brought joy to millions and will live forever in the annals of history. May the force be with you Kenny.
Illustrator and cartoonist Jack Davis was probably most famous for Mad Magazine, but the man did a heck of a lot of movie posters, some of the great ones too! His signature was distorted images of full-length people in a crowd, and I really do love his one-sheet for the difficult to market The Long GoodBye. Who puts dialogue bubbles on a movie poster? Jack Did. He also illustrated posters for Spaghetti Westerns, star-studded comedy blockbusters, kids movies, musicals and the like, almost all of his work was for films with quirky (or farcical) comic inflection, and yes, that certainly includes Robert Altman’s revisionist noir starring Elliot Gould.
A big hat-tip to ImpAwards for bringing this to my attention. You can find more of Jack’s superlative work over at their site.
Another day, it seems that another world cinema auteur passes on. Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami succumbed to Cancer at 76.
If you spent any time on the A-list festival circuit in the past 20 years, you will have encountered many of Abbas Kiarostami’s films. He put Iranian cinema on the world stage with his Palm D’Or win of A Taste of Cherry and was one of the defining voices in the Iranian New Wave. His no-nonsense, documentary-like visual style was mixed with long wide panoramic shots that brought a quiet poetry to the rural living subjects and children.
The director however, worked in all parts of the world flirted with mainstream success recently with the exquisite Tuscany-set Certified Copy examining relationships and communication in an esoteric and intellectual fashion with Juliette Binoche and William Shimell; cinema gamesmanship.
After a lengthy career in advertising and working in all aspects behind the camera (from designing credit sequences to posters) as well as writing children’s books and poetry, Kiarostami made his first feature in 1977, and worked prolifically until his death at 76. His last film, the quite stylized (oh that opening shot!) Like Someone In Love was shot in Japan.
Cinema legend Michael Cimino has passed on at 77 (albeit nobody seems to trust that was actually his age.) While he started his career in New York making Television commercials, he quickly moved into screenwriting (he wrote the Bruce Dern hippie-sci-fi near-classic Silent Running, as well as the second Dirty Harry picture, Magnum Force) before starting to direct features in the mid 1970s.
Michael Cimino was perhaps best known for making one of the great Vietnam War pictures, The Deer Hunter, the film which made Christopher Walken a star, and included fine performances from Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and John Cazale. He was also infamous for his studio crushing Heaven’s Gate, a film so expensive it put United Artists into receivership with its financial excesses, but nevertheless, nearly 40 years later, is now hailed by many as a true American masterpiece. It killed his career, although he made a few more modest films in the 1980s and 1990s, nothing of the massive, deliberate scale of his two great films. It is notable that the man has more unrealized films in that period that most directors, in part due to his budget bloating fastidiousness directing method.
Cinimo always felt like the odd man out of the cinema-brats of the 1970s (Polanski, Friedkin, Scorsese, De Palma, Spielberg & Lucas), maybe because his films were considered slow and pondering, even by the standards of the era. The man nevertheless had a great eye for imagery and knew how to craft a setpiece.
Robin Hardy, director of one of the all time great horror films, The Wickerman has passed on at the age of 86. Born in Surrey, England, Hardy started his career with the National Film Board of Canada, before going on to direct many TV commercials in the UK, before he came on board to direct the 1973 film which starred Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee. Lee, before his recent passing, described The Wickerman as the best film he was ever in – from a man with nearly 300 film and TV credits including Lord of the Rings, 007, and Star Wars entries.
The influence of The Wickerman cannot be understated, from the recent Radiohead homage to Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (which has a cameo from Woodward) to various musicians quoting dialogue and musical elements in their work. It played a significant role in bringing paganism back to Britain in a big way, and this from one of the most tortured releases in the UK and the United States.
In the UK it played as the B-side to one of the greatest horror double features ever (Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now was the “A” film on the bill), and in the US, it was a severely truncated drive-in movie, that still somehow managed to spawn a cult of viewers while it crawled its way to horror-classic. The oft quoted phrase, “The Citizen Kane of Horror films,” comes from one Bay Area magazine, Cinefantastique, which was the first to recognize and trumpet its greatness. Even to this day, there are several of edits of the film that still remain confusing as to what is the definitive one. The writing, acting and direction are all working in sync despite being such a troubled production and release.
After 1973, Robin Hardy worked publishing novels, consulting on American historical theme parks, and directing only two films in the 1980s before circling back to have another look at his legacy. A few years ago, myself and a colleague, Micheal Guillen, had the rare privilege of sitting down for a lengthy breakfast-long interview with the erudite and prickly director, just as he was releasing his satirical sequel, The Wicker Tree at the Fantasia Film festival. You can find that interview here.
On a recent Cinecast, I believe it was during our review of Green Room, Kurt and I briefly went through Anton Yelchin’s filmography and noted that any film is just that much better whenever he shows up. So it’s with a heavy heart we have to report that the actor has met an untimely demise at the all too young age of 27.
Apparently Yelchin was found early in the morning pinned between his car and a mailbox. It appears that his own car, which was in neutral, somehow hit him and pinned him into a brick mailbox.
‘This is unreal,’ the actor’s friend Anna Kendrick tweeted on Sunday. ‘Anton Yelchin is such a talent. Such a huge loss.’
His Star Trek co-star John Cho added: ‘I loved Anton Yelchin so much. He was a true artist – curious, beautiful, courageous. He was a great pal and a great son. I’m in ruins.’
Chad Michael Murray tweeted: Just heard about Anton Yelchin. What a great talent and good young man. Gone far too soon…Terrible loss. You will be missed.’
Yelchin fled with his family to the United States as political refugees from St. Petersburg Russia when he was just 15. Which puts him at just 18 years-old before starring in a film in which he is the titular character alongside Robert Downey Jr in Charlie Bartlett. From the moment you saw Charlie Bartlett and saw him holding his own alongside the big guns, you could tell this was going to be a big star.
Yelchin chose wisely with his roles and tended to go with more intimate and interesting roles, rather than the big flashy ones. And he always succeeded – even if the movie did not. All of this of course until taking a huge role in 2009’s Star Trek as Pavel Chekov, navigator of the USS Enterprise which led to playing Kyle Reese in a sequel to the Terminator franchise one year later.
It’s too bad when something like this happens as all told he was a great guy and I’m positive he had dozens of fantastic performances ahead of him. You will be missed sir. God speed.
Iconic musician, actor, producer, director, and man of many names, Prince Rogers Nelson has passed on from influenza (possibly, this details are still forthcoming) at 57. Throw on your DVD of Purple Rain, and watch him sploog idiosyncratic greatness onto the big screen.
I am sure many tributes will come out in the next few days for the super star in purple from Minnesota, from folks more in the know than I, but for now, The Guardian has more.
Passing far too young (he was recently on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee talking about death of all things), stand-up, writer, actor, and all around funny man Garry Shandling has died suddenly at age 66. Causes of death have not been released as this time.
Starting out as a stand-up comedian and staff sitcom writer for such Sanford & Son and Welcome Back Kotter, Shandling blew up the sitcom format in the late 1980s with his capital “M” meta smackdown of the format, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, in which he would regularly walk outside the TV-set boundaries, talk to the crew and acknowledge the live studio audience (and the audience at home). For me, along with the Looney Tunes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Garry Shandling, I remember vividly my childhood crash course in the comedic power of breaking the fourth wall.
Garry Shandling went on to revolutionize how HBO did original programming with is behind the scenes talk show Larry Sanders, where, along with Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor, he went on to significant critical and cultural success. In between all that, Shandling was a regular character actor who popped up in high and low brow comedies from the 1990s all the way up to the MCU’s Captain America sequel.