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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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“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many recappers, while clearly over their heads, are baseline sympathetic to finding themselves routinely unmoored, even if that means repeating over and over that this is closer to “avant-garde art” than  normal TV to meet the word count. My feed was busy connecting the dots to Peter Tscherkassky (gas station), Tony Conrad (the giant staring at feedback of what we’ve just seen), Pat O’Neill (bombs away) et al., and this is all apposite — visual and conceptual thinking along possibly inadvertent parallel lines. If recappers can’t find those exact reference points to latch onto, that speaks less to willful ignorance than to how unfortunately severed experimental film is from nearly all mainstream discussions of film because it’s generally hard to see outside of privileged contexts (fests, academia, the secret knowledge of a self-preserving circle working with a very finite set of resources and publicity access to the larger world); resources/capital/access/etc. So I won’t assign demerits for willful incuriosity, even if some recappers are reduced, in some unpleasantly condescending/bluffing cases, to dismissing this as a “student film” — because presumably experimentation is something the seasoned artist gets out of their system in maturity, following the George Lucas Model of graduating from Bruce Conner visuals to Lawrence Kasdan’s screenwriting.”
~ Vadim Rizov Goes For It, A Bit

“On the first ‘Twin Peaks,’ doing TV was like going from a mansion to a hut. But the arthouses are gone now, so cable television is a godsend — they’re the new art houses. You’ve got tons of freedom to do the work you want to do on TV, but there is a restriction in terms of picture and sound. The range of television is restricted. It’s hard for the power and the glory to come through. In other words, you can have things in a theater much louder and also much quieter. With TV, the quieter things have to be louder and the louder things have to be quieter, so you have less dynamics. The picture quality — it’s fine if you have a giant television with a good speaker system, but a lot of people will watch this on their laptops or whatever, so the picture and the sound are going to suffer big time. Optimally, people should be watching TV in a dark room with no disturbances and with as big and good a picture as possible and with as great sound as possible.”
~ David Lynch