Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Director's Report Card: Mel Brooks (1976-1987)

5. Silent Movie
Brook’s potency as a comedy writer comes from verbal wit, so doing a silent picture cuts down on how funny this could have been. What we are left with are a handful of amusing sight gags and some half-cooked satire on Hollywood.

We’re doing okay until about halfway through until momentum is lost, like it often is in gag based comedies, and we just have to trudge through the rest of the movie as the story goes through its steps.

The central cast of Brooks, Marty Feldman, and Dom DeLuise are actually composed of some of Brooks’ weakest reoccurring actors. The collection of celebrity cameos feel more like they where put into the film for marketing reasons then for anything else. Supposedly this was suppose to be a parody of silent comedies ala Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, but I didn’t really get that feeling nor is it a good idea to do a parody of comedies. [Grade: C]

6. High Anxiety
Similar to “Young Frankenstein” in that it takes pot-shots at a specific set of films instead of just a wide genre. In general, parodies of this sort are not as successful simply because they limit themselves so much.

Still, “High Anxiety” does get pretty good mileage out Hitchcock’s stuff. There’s never too long a period without at least a chuckle producing moment. The movie also has the best “Psycho” parody I’ve ever seen. The story does drag in the middle because the mystery is given more focus in parts then just being silly.

Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman are given thankless jobs in pretty one-bit roles though Madeline Kahn and Ron Carey get a couple laughs. Decent but not a must-see. [Grade: B]

7. History of the World, Part I
Definitely the worst thing Brooks has ever had his hand in. The thing that really bothers me about “History of the World, Part I” is it’s reliance on low-brow humor. Not to say that Brooks hasn’t made naughty jokes before and not to say he hasn’t done it well, but the majority of the jokes here are of that variety. In small doses it works, but that type of humor just isn’t where Brooks’ strengths are. “The French Revolution” segment is definitely the worst victim of this. The Roman segment seems to go on forever and is mostly laughless. (And also features a pot joke. Come on, Mel, are you really stooping that low?)

A group of celebrities march through and do their cameo thing but nobody is really memorable. The Spanish Inquisition musical number is really the only part that reaches the gut busting levels of his past films and pretty much the only reason to see this one. The ending also features a dancing Hitler (always good) and a more-or-less preview for Brook’s next film. Still, I can’t say I’d look forward to Part II. [Grade: D+]

8. Spaceballs
Most professional critics, at the time of its original release, pointed to “Spaceballs” as the turning point for Mel Brooks, when his films went from being on the cutting edge of parody to something slightly less then the cutting edge. I can’t really tell you where that attitude came from because, all things considered, “Spaceballs” is pretty funny.

The movie is, as you’d expect, packed from start to finish with gags and, surprise!, most of them are actually good. Maybe not super-inspired comic genius, but the funny is brought. Ludicrous speed, the ship execution, and John Hurt’s cameo all classify as minor classics in my book. The movie also proves to be one of Brooks’ most quotable. (In the right area a “What didn’t anybody tell me my ass was so big?” or a “Evil will always triumph because good is dumb.” will get you a nice response.) One of the best reoccurring gags in the movie is the mocking of “Star Wars” merchandising. (Lucas would only give the movie the okay if Brooks promised not to produce any merchandise. Little bitter perhaps, Mel?)

One of the best things about the movie is just how successfully it copies the “Star Wars” look. I’d say the special effects are at least as good as anything else you’d find in the original trilogy. The cast also help things along. Dark Helmet might not be the role Rick Moranis was born to play (That’s Seymour Krelborn, by the way) but his “villainous” turn is still one of his best. Bill Pullman is underrated. Let’s face it, the guy has proven his skills in just about every genre and he’s pretty funny here to. And hey, let’s give the required shout-out to John Candy and Dom Delusie. (Am I the only one who thinks the Pizza the Hut make-up is a little disturbing?)

I can fault the movie for some of its really obvious visual jokes. (They still made me laugh) and its bad ‘80s funk/soul soundtrack, which is distracting. All things considered, “Spaceballs” is a great time. Brooks, forget about that awful cartoon show and give us “Spaceballs II: The Quest for More Money!” [Grade: B+]

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