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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 was a brat back when I made Pootie Tang. I was dealing with people every day whose pressures I didn’t understand, and I wasn’t very nice about how I said no to them. I put myself in a position I didn’t have to be in. A lot of what makes this kind of stuff work is empathy. If you’re taking money from somebody, they have a right to look after it. It’s all just trying to be clear about the arrangement. That’s why when I set up ‘Louie,’ I just said, ‘This is what I’m comfortable doing, and if you don’t want to do it, I don’t blame you. But in exchange, I’ll take very little money.’ I was only getting $200,000 per show from them, which is insane, and it goes up just by tiny increments every year. The other part of the arrangement with FX is that if this stops working for them, they should just tell me and we’ll stop doing it. Contractually, FX has a right to demand that the scripts be filtered through them before I shoot them, just like any other show. But from the beginning, they haven’t read anything, and they like the show. If I start turning in shit, then they’re going to start asking to see scripts, and that’s perfectly fair.”
~ Louis C. K.

BOMB: Do you give a lot of direction?

ASSAYAS: I give zero indications. Nothing. To me, it’s all physical. It is all about getting the right actors. They understand the part. They’re not idiots. They’re going to sit down, and they’re going to work. They don’t need my explanations. The problem is that actors listen to directors. They respect them. So, when you say something, it becomes gospel. In a certain way, this limits their imagination. I’d rather say nothing. Then, when we shoot, I fix whatever I don’t like. I channel it as softly as I can in a direction where, maybe, there’s something to gain. But, usually, if you are working with the right people, their instinct will be correct. They will bring something of their own to the character, and to the situation. Ultimately, there will be some kind of human truth to what they are doing.
~ Olivier Assayas on directing

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