Friday, October 09, 2009

What an Honor!

Last month the Kennedy Center announced its recipients for their annual Kennedy Center Honors. The five honorees this year are: Bruce Springsteen, Dave Brubeck, Grace Bumbry, Robert De Niro and Mel Brooks. Of course, Bruce, Dave and Grace are well-known in the music world (rock, jazz and opera). I will leave the Music Blog to sing their laurels, but two of the honorees are from the world of film.

I love Robert De Niro! Not for his roles in The Godfather, Mean Streets, GoodFellas, Casino or Taxi Driver. This isn’t the De Niro that I go to see. The De Niro I love is the one that, although well known for his gangster/violent roles, goes beyond that and takes some artistic chances.

Stardust (DVD): This charming action/fantasy film is based on a Neil Gaiman novel. The story takes place in two distinct worlds, one real and the other magical. They exist side by side in mid nineteenth-century England, separated by only a rock wall. Our real world hero takes off into the magical world of course, prompted by a girl! Amazing and frightening things happen there, with one of the highlights being his encounter with Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro). The Captain loves to dress in women’s clothing and dance in front of a mirror. De Niro at his eccentric best!

Awakenings (VHS): Robert De Niro stars with Robin Williams in this drama based on the Oliver Sacks non-fiction book of the same name. A new doctor (Williams) starts to work in a ward full of comatose patients. Many have been comatose for decades and it disturbs the doctor that there seems to be no hope for a cure. He discovers an experimental drug that he gets permission to try on some of the patients. To his amazement, they start waking up. DeNiro plays one of the patients and gives a heartbreaking performance filled with delight, hope and despair.

Melvin Kaminsky, aka Mel Brooks, successfully conquered the worlds of film (he won an Oscar for his 1968 screenplay of The Producers.), stage (12 Tonys for the stage version of The Producers) and television (Emmys for writing and for appearances on the comedy series Mad About You). Not bad for a guy that is well known for fart jokes (Blazing Saddles)!

The Producers (DVD): This is one of my favorite films! The original version, that is! Although, I do like Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, they don’t hold a candle to Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. In previous posts I have already expounded the wonders of Kenneth Mars as Franz Liebkind. Put them all together and it is a hilarious, musical romp. Mel Brooks movies make us laugh even when we really should have be offended.

Young Frankenstein (DVD): Of course, this also made it to Broadway in a stage version. And, although I enjoyed the stage version, I prefer the film. It is probably the most quoted by my circle of friends, “Put... ze candle... *back*!” Gene Wilder, as the grandson of the infamous Baron Victor Frankenstein and Peter Boyle as his “monster” are perfect in their roles. Add the comic brilliance of Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr and Cloris Leachman and you have a movie worth watching again and again. Many feel that Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks best film ever.

Congratulations to all of this years Kennedy Center Honorees!

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