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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on DVDs: The Mel Brooks Collection

Pick of the Week:  Box Sets

“The Mel Brooks Collection” (Blu-Ray) (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Mel Brooks & Alan Johnson, 1970-1993 (20th Century Fox/MGM)


It’s good to be the King…But sometimes, it‘s better to be the Kaminsky.
Mel Kaminsky, a.k.a. Mel Brooks, presents nine of his funnier features, from 1970’s The Twelve Chairs to 1993”s Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Brooks wrote or co-wrote all of them, directed all but one: his 1983 remake of Ernst Lubitsch‘s  “To Be or Not To Be, which was (man)-handled by “Producers” choreographer Alan Johnson.
Speaking of  The Producers, the 1968 version of which is easily one of the funniest movies ever made (“ Is it good? I mean, is it bad?”),  it’s also one of the Mel-movies that isn’t here. And its absence lowers the laugh quotient considerably. (“It’s a catastrophe…This play is guaranteed to close…on page four!”) But that still leaves a pretty high yock average, enough to pulverize any decently susceptible audience, even those, like our old friend and legendary film critic Jean-Luc Le Petomaine, who object to flatulence and fart jokes. (“’Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolph and Eva in Berschtesgaden.’ Wow!”)
The set includes a 120-page coffee-table — or maybe a demi-tasse table — book. But I couldn’t read mine because somebody spilled coffee all over it. It didn’t matter. As a great, tragic hero once said: “Never underestimate the power of the Schwartz.” Yeah. And it’s good to be the Blu-ray!
Includes: The Twelve Chairs (U.S.; Mel Brooks, 1970). Three and a Half Stars. Ron Moody, Frank Langella and Dom DeLuise (“Oh God, you’re so strict!”) run around old Russia, looking for a fortune hidden in one of a dozen chairs. Brooks’ second funniest performance as a mad peasant. (“It’s good to be the serf.“) Based on a “Your Show of Shows” sketch by Nikolai Gogol, Neil Simon and Anton Chekhov. Very funny. Brooks should cut down on movie parodies, and make more like this one and The Producers.
Blazing Saddles (U.S.; Brooks, 1974). Four Stars. Brooks sends up Westerns, producing the finest sagebrush gibberish since Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw. Starring Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little, backed by Madeleine Kahn, Harvey Korman, Brooks and Slim Pickens. Frankie Laine‘s finest hour — or finest three minutes — at least since “Rawhide.” But what idiot nixed Richard Pryor for the lead, after the comic helped Brooks write all those jokes intended for himself? (“Pardon me while I whip this out.”) What was the theory? No chemistry between Pryor and Gene Wilder? Sheesh…

“Young Frankenstein (U.S.; Brooks, 1974). Four Stars. Frankenstein unchained, unbound, unkempt, upsent and unplugged. With Gene Wilder as “Victor Fronkenstein,” Peter Boyle as the monster, Marty Feldman as Eye-gore, Gene Jackman as the blind benefactor and Madeleine Kahn, Teri Garr and Cloris Leachman as horror-babes. Heye-larious.

Silent Movie (U.S.; Brooks, 1976). Three Stars. Brooks tries to bring back silent movies, added by Feldman, DeLuise, Bernadette Peters, Sid Caesar, Paul Newman, Liza Minnelli, James Caan, Anne Bancroft, Burt Reynolds, and, of course, Marcel Marceau.  (“Non!”) No truth to the rumor that this movie’s sound track was lost in the same fire that destroyed Carl Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc.
High Anxiety (U.S.; Brooks, 1977). Three Stars. Brooks sends up Alfred Hitchcock, aided by Kahn, Leachman and Korman, with script assistance from Barry Levinson. Guaranteed to give you Vertigo. I hate to say it, but the movie could have used Gene Wilder. And also Cary Grant.

The History of the World, Part One (U.S.; Brooks, 1981). Three and a Half Stars. History. With Brooks, Korman, Kahn, Leachman, Caesar — and Shecky Greene. Where’s Henny Youngman as Nero? (“Take Rome, please.”) Where’s the sequel? It’s good to be the auteur. To Be or Not To Be (U.S.: Alan Johnson, 1983). Two and a Half Stars. (“So they call me Concentration Camp Erhard!“) Lubitsch remade. Bancroft laughs. Annie and Brooks try to reincarnate Carole Lombard and Jack Benny. Well…Charles Durning, Christopher Lloyd and Jose Ferrer support.  Okay, but this movie proves The Importance of Being Ernst.
Spaceballs (U.S.; Brooks, 1987).  Two and a Half Stars. “May the Schwartz be with you.” Brooks, as wise old Yogurt, sends up Star Wars” assisted by John Candy, Rick Moranis, and Bill Pullman. Here’s where the joke begins to wear thin, or thinner. Whatever.  The Schwartz wasn‘t with them. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (U.S.; Brooks, 1993). Two and a Half Stars. Brooks sends up Robin Hood, assisted by Cary Elwes, Roger Rees and Tracey Ullmann. In like Flynn, it ain’t. But Brooks makes a good Rabbi Tuchman. (“This castle is guaranteed to close…on page four!”)


   Extras: 120-page coffee table book, complete with easy-assemble coffee table.  And, in twelve unmarked box sets: Life-size replica of Brooks as Yogurt and the complete  original play script of Franz Kinder’s “Springtime for Hitler.”

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“It’s incredibly exciting to fabricate a world. I was like, ‘Man, why doesn’t every movie do this?’ You allow yourself the freedom to have every color of the palette make a statement. You allow yourself the freedom to paint buildings whatever color you want. You get to adjust or subvert the reality around you. And I say this as someone whose first films as a student were documentaries. With La La Land, I wanted to get at reality in an indirect way. It’s an emotional portrait of L.A., not a realistic one. And I wanted to push back against the strict reliance on realism, which is one reason why Hollywood doesn’t do musicals anymore. It wasn’t always this way. Just look at the movies of Douglas Sirk or Powell and Pressburger. They always went beyond ordinary realism to get to emotions. They were both mainstream and avant-garde. They were commercial at their core but also balls-out insane.”
~ Damien Chazelle On The Look Of La La Land

Fey: How are we going to proceed with any kind of dignity in an increasingly ugly world? And I actually was thinking — because I’ve got to write something for when I get the award — to use Sherry Lansing as an inspiration because she was a lady who worked in a very, very ugly business and always managed to be quite dignified. But in a world where the president makes fun of handicapped people and fat people, how do we proceed with dignity? I want to tell people, “If you do two things this year, watch Idiocracy by Mike Judge and read Leni Riefenstahl’s 800-page autobiography and then call it a year.”
Letterman: Wait a minute. Tell me about Leni Riefenstahl.
Fey: She grew up in Germany. She was in many ways a brilliant pioneer. She pioneered sports photography as we know it. She’s the one who had the idea to dig a trench next to the track for the Olympics and put a camera on a dolly. But she also rolled with the punches and said, “Well, he’s the führer. He’s my president. I’ll make films for him.” She did some terrible, terrible things. And I remember reading 20 years ago, thinking, “This is a real lesson, to be an artist who doesn’t roll with what your leader is doing just because he’s your leader.”
Letterman: My impression of this woman is that she was the sister of Satan.
Fey: She was in many ways. But what she claimed in the book was, “He was the president, so what was I supposed to do?” And I feel a lot of people are going to start rolling that way.
~ Tina Fey And David Letterman Are Anxious