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+]

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Director's Report Card: Mel Brooks (1968-1974)

So, here's some older reviews I've been sitting on for a while, debating wither or not I should rewrite them to be more up to snuff with my current quality or just be lazy and post them as they are.

Well, today I decided to be lazy. Here's the first part of the Mel Brooks Director's Report Card.

1. The Producers
Perhaps what makes this film work more then anything else is Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Wilder is a nervous, twitching wreck while Mostel is trying to swindle everyone. The two play off each other nicely.

The central premise of the film is hilarious stuff. Not just purposely creating a flop to get rich, but making a musical about Hitler. It’s this kind of thinking that makes (Or made?) Mel Brooks the comic genius he is (Was?), taking something nobody would think of as absurd, and making it so. This kind of tactic could just be offensive. Luckily Brooks is a really funny guy. Some of the skit here are just side splittingly funny, the Nazi playwright, the beatnik lead in the play, the flamboyantly gay stage director. These are just really great comic moments and there really isn’t any more to say about it, other then perhaps I’ve never really liked the stage musical version of this. [Grade: A]

2. The Twelve Chairs
When you think about Mel Brooks’ films today, it’s surprising to watch his first two features. While “The Twelve Chairs” and “The Producers” certainly aren’t short on zaniness, compared to the gag-driven parody films that dominate his career, they are more character based and even somewhat restrained.

All the best humor here comes from the interaction of the three very strongly rendered lead characters. There is plenty of physical humor, I mean, this is basically a chase film after all, and while a good deal of it is funny, some of it very funny; it can’t compare with the barbs the leads trade.

Ron Moody is quite good as the short-fused and usually nervous Ippolit Vorobyaninov. Frank Langella, back when he was still a heart-throb, brings a great deal of wry slyness to his part. And, even though I know it’s hard to believe, Dom DeLuise was actually funny once. He fully commits himself to the goofiness of his part, never stopping once for the sake of personal dignity. Mel Brooks himself also gives one of his best performance in a small supporting role as the simple and often drunk man-servant Tikon. The very catchy opening song, “Hope for the Best (Expect the Worst)” also deserves mention.

The story does drag a bit in the middle and I don’t think it would have hurt the movie any if some of the gags related to the theater trope was cut. The occasional use of sped-up footage doesn’t work either. Mostly forgotten today, “The Twelve Chairs” has plenty of laughs in it and, though not the director’s funniest film, is one of his better written. [Grade: B]

3. Blazing Saddles
It’s sad to say that this movie would probably never get made today. It’s so rare that a film tackles a serious subject, one like racism, with humor. And it’s not like Mel Brooks’ humor is exactly subtle either. Basically, “Blazing Saddles” is a knee-slapping funny film, not beyond fart jokes and silly sight gags, but still has a brain about it. Somehow the two methods blend and we are presented with what I’ll call smart stupid humor. The movie makes points with gags. That is such a simple concept but works so incredibly well.

The cast is excellent, with the supporting parts being the most memorable. Not to say Cleavon Little is bad in the lead, he’s good, with his constant state of bemusement at everything. But the likes of Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Alex Karras, and Slim Pickings easily walk away with the show. And how about the ending when the movie explodes out into full fledged goofiness? Comedy gold.

Its mixture of astute, if blunt, social commentary, sublime silliness, and an occasional naughty streak makes “Blazing Saddles” the director’s best film and one of the funniest comedies ever made. [Grade: A]

4. Young Frankenstein
This is probably better appreciated by horror fans then by most other people. Sure, “Young Frankenstein” works great as a gag comedy, full of wonderfully funny actors being wonderfully funny, as well as a very interesting melancholy undertone; but there are so many subtle nods and riffs on scenes from just about every one of the classic Universal Frankenstein films. Yes, the bogermeister with the wooden arm or the dart throwing gag, are great, but if you know where they come from, they are better. I known because I remember watching the film years before I became a big horror geek and laughing a lot, but I remember laughing more watching it more recently.

Of course the cast is great, with only Peter Boyle and Marty Feldman being some of the great performances here. Though not as smart as “The Producers” or “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein” certainly stands as one of Mel Brooks’ best films. [Grade: A-]

Saturday, June 5, 2010

So, I made a movie...

I know I don't normally use this blog to promote my other projects. But since this is a film-related blog, and we're talking about a film, I figured it was at least appropriate.

I wanted to upload it to a classy website like Vimeo, but was having trouble making that work. So then I tried a less classy website, like Veoh or Dailymotion, but was still having trouble getting the upload to go all the way through. So it wound up on Megavideo. (Where I expect it to be ignore. The only thing people watch on Megavideo are pirated movies and TV shows.) Yes, I'm aware of the pop-up that appears when you click play. I apologize for that.

It's called "Knowing Mike Barton" and is suppose to be a depressing comedy. I worked very hard to pull off this lo-fi look so, yes, if you're wondering, it's suppose to look that crappy. It's about a half hour long and does contain adult language.

Anyway, here's the link:

Knowing Mike Barton - MEGAVIDEO

I'd really appreciated if you took the time out of your day to watch and leave a comment on this blog below. Viewer feedback is essential.