Articles by " Tylar Naill"
28 Jun
2017

Happy 91st Birthday, Mel Brooks!

June 28 is Mel Brooks's birthday! Is it strange to write a blog well-wishing someone who doesn't know I exist? That I leave for the philosophers. Arguably the most esteemed comedic film director, Mel Brooks has made us all laugh. If I were to list my top 3 comedies of all time, two of Brooks's films would be featured (Young Frankenstein and The Producers, respectfully).  His films have influenced the way that my sense of humor has developed; what I think is remarkable about his writing and direction is the delivery and timing of his material. Here are a few scenes that I find work particularly well.

Young Frankenstein - 1974

An homage to the Frankenstein movies of old, this film takes a place in my heart as my favorite of his films. Dialogue from this movie is burned into my brain. I could go on and on about werewolves, Abby Normal, and quiet "dignity and grace," but there is one piece of dialogue in particular that always makes me laugh. It starts with Frau Blücher (horse noises).

     Frau Blücher: Would the doctor care for a... brandy before retiring?

     Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No. Thank you.

     Frau Blücher: [suggestively] Some varm milk... perhaps?

     Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No... thank you very much. No thanks.

     Frau Blücher: [suggestively] Ovaltine?

     Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: NOTHING! Thank you! I'm a little -- tired!

I truly do hate to explain the joke and ruin all sense of humor, I truly do. This set of dialogue often gets overlooked when people talk about the film's comedic genius, in favor of other memorable moments ("It could be raining," for example). However, these lines have a lot of meaning for me.

I would watch this movie a lot as a kid, and while I didn't get all the jokes 'til later in life, I got this one. Frau B being persistently nice and Gene Wilder being resistant to everything and suspicious set this scene up. The Ovaltine being completely out of place (and time), and Dr. Frankenstein's reaction knocked it out of the park.

I know I am biased, though. I remember on really tough days growing up, going to my room and being upset. My mother would come to the door and, doing her best Frau Blücher impression, would ask me these same questions. No matter how resistant I was (if I ended up laughing, I was no longer in my well-deserved bad mood), she would always make me break come to the Ovaltine part. By then I could talk about what was wrong. 

The Producers - 2005

While I do like Brooks's original film starring Gene Wilder a great deal, his later musical adaptation is superior (still bitter about never being able to see it live). The acting is wonderful in both, but the music in the film is just A+. What really sells it at the end of the day is the litany of well-written and fun songs. It is tough to find a favorite of all the songs on the soundtrack, but if I had to pick just one it would be "We Can Do It." Precluded by a step-by-step plan on how to pull of their scheme, the duet is perfectly executed by both Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. It's a beautiful song on how to be perfectly terrible. The parallel between historical figures of note and then themselves, sleazeballs trying to make a quick buck, is what truly makes the song work. It is so uplifting for such a scummy purpose.

Blazing Saddles - 1974

If you ever needed to know exactly who Mongo is, his purpose, how he acts, or whether he is the type of guy who can knock out an innocent horse in one punch, well, this scene covers these questions, and then some.

I have had a lot of conversations about Mel Brooks. Well, maybe not conversations as much as quote spamming and giggling. Everyone I have ever talked to has different favorite scenes, from conversations to film class critiques. That speaks volumes to Mel Brooks's ability as a writer and director. So many hilarious memories across so many different people, he has had quite the career (and is still making things!).

Happy birthday to an incredibly humble and talented man who has made an impact on so many people's lives.

25 Mar
2017

Isn’t Tolkien Reading Day every day?

Happy Tolkien Reading Day, folks. Held on March 25, this is generally the time each year that I decide to re-read at least one of the novels related to Tolkien's Middle Earth (I normally choose The Hobbit; it has always been my personal favorite). J.R.R. Tolkien is a pretty amazing dude who did a whole lot with his life. He served during the first World War and began to write many of his stories while injured. He studied linguistics and history, both of which inspired his works.

"Hey, I get it. I'm not here to learn about some English dude. I want to read about orcs and goblins!"

How rude, informal reader. But, alas, let's talk books. Well I am talking. Typing technically. You get it.

The father of high fantasy

J.R.R. Tolkien (source)

Never read a drop of Tolkien before? I would start with The Hobbit (1937). The Hobbit is a wonderful story, a fantasy novel written, in a lot of ways, like a historical epic (this trend is always present in Tolkien's work, and I would wager it is the reason his stories are so well done). It is a children's novel primarily, and that lends to its credit. Many of us read it when we were young, and the themes of adventure, excitement, and fear help us remember a time when we also saw the world as Mr. Bilbo Baggins does: frighteningly large and exciting. This book has a soothing quality around it and truly puts me at ease. The characters are all very real, which is essential for a world that isn't. If we can't relate to anyone, why should we care? If someone is the best at everything and has no faults, then I will stop reading.

"Uh, what about Gandalf?" you may ask. Oh dear reader, Gandalf has to be great and powerful and mysterious. He alienates us, the readers, to a degree. Also all the wizard really does is set pine cones on fire, so how great is he? The version you buy most anywhere will not be the original. Tolkien edited it when The Lord of the Rings was being made so it fit in with the world (hello retcon).

I won't take offense if you duck out now and go read The Hobbit. I am half tempted to. But for those who want something a bit meatier and meant for adult audiences, then how about this little ol' collection called The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955)? Three different books each made up of two parts, it will take a bit to read, but the journey is worth it.

"Hey guy, I watched the movies. I know the story." Hey, I hate to be that guy who goes on and on about how the books are better than the movies (I don't hate to be that guy), but that is what I am going to do. The movies had this problem where they had to fit 20 hours of content into a single movie. And they had to make it more exciting for the typical movie-going audience. And while the movie has an amazing soundtrack, wonderful cinematography, and a great cast, there's just some stuff that didn't translate.

Let's take one of my favorite book scenes. Strider (yes, Strider) is discussing the Last Alliance of Men and Elves and becomes lost in his thoughts. "Suddenly, a low voice murmured:

Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing;
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea.

His sword was long, his lance was keen.
His shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven's field
were mirrored in his silver shield.

But long ago he rode away,
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are."

Gil-Galad from the movie

Gil-Galad screen time: about 3 seconds? (source)

This is narrated by none other than Samwise Gamgee, who is fascinated by elves but doesn't even know if they are real. Strider goes into it more, but I hope you get the point by now. This one snippet developed multiple characters all at once, in many different ways. We know Strider is even more mysterious and knowledgeable than before, we know Sam wants to believe in something magical about the world, and we know this world is filled with established poems and sad tales. This poem has a beautiful sadness to it, which has stuck with me since the day I read it. And these stories are magical because moments like this happen everywhere. These very real characters, whom we relate to, live and fight and hope and dream, and die, and we feel for them. It feels more real than most fiction because of this. While I do enjoy the movies, this is one of the things it gets wrong (not out of choice I am sure, but necessity. You only have so much time).

"Character development isn't plot, Mr. Man" you may say. Well let's assume you are right. I did promise significant plot discrepancies between the films and books. Let's look at one (I don't want to spoil too much if you haven't read the books yet). Generally the same stuff happens, but in different ways. In the film The Return of the King, Aragorn leaves with Legolas and Gimli for no real reason and asks a bunch of ghosts to kill the bad guys in a city. Well ok, maybe I am oversimplifying a tad, however this has stuck with me since I saw the film. Aragon doesn't really deserve this victory; it is given to him. Kings should earn their kingship, birthrights are what the bad guys have. At the end of The Two Towers book, Strider meets some fellow rangers. He, Gimli, Legolas, and the rangers meet some ghosts. Because they are ghosts (you know, incorporeal) and can't really touch stuff, they scare a bunch of Southrons off of their boats, which Strider and co. use to approach Minas Tirith from the back and they liberate the city. They do it. They fight and die and earn the victory. When Strider becomes Aragorn, becoming king, you feel he is the rightful heir and has escaped the curse of Isildur. This is the kind of depth you can only get from reading the book.

Watercolor of the lonely mountain

Tolkien's paintings have this level of charm that you just don't see anymore (source)

Wait....you read these four books and you want something else? Well, on the Tolkien nerd flowchart, we now go to two different books: The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. These books were never finished. Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R.'s son, edited and published these stories (and most of his other short stories, letters, and poem collections which are also worth looking up). The Silmarillion is a history book, make no mistake. But it is a history book about elves and their related adventures. Many of the scenes added to The Hobbit movies came from The Silmarillion. It goes in to a lot of detail of who Gandalf and the related wizards are and what they do as well. There is so much content I can't even scratch the surface, so I hope that you will take a look. Unfinished Tales is basically a book of short stories and drafts. It is an odd read because going in you know what you are reading will never be finished, but it isn't a bad one.

"You can't tell me that he didn't write anything else?!? I read all of this 10 times!" Look, dear reader, I feel you. Sadly, as the elves left for the Grey Havens, our journey is coming to a close. Tolkien has many critical essays written involving old poems and epics. He knew his stuff well, and if you are a fan of Arthurian legends and such, worth a read to see where his inspiration comes from. Many poems and stories here and there involve Middle Earth, as well, but, alas, that will be left for you to find.

Congratulations if you made it this far, but don't you have something to read by now? I know I do. Time to find some Old Toby and my own Glamdring. Now where did I put that Lighting Brand.....

T.