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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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“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott