YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

youngfrank-poster

Directed by: Mel Brooks

Written by: Mel Brooks & Gene Wilder

(based on the novel FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley)

Starring: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn & Kenneth Mars

Over four decades after its release, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN still cracks people up in ways that few modern comedies (and even fewer spoofs) do. I can attest to that, having recently seen it on the big screen in a practically sold-out theater that was filled with laughter the whole way through. Those laughs come from a barrage of rapid-fire jokes that never quit and target all types of humor, all while the movie stays true to the atmosphere of the films it’s lampooning and maintains an impossible-to-resist charm. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a classic comedy that will never grow old and tired.

youngfrank-1

The story picks up decades after the events of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is a medical professor who does all he can to distance himself from his notorious grandfather Victor Frankenstein, including pronouncing his last name as “Fronkensteen.” When he inherits his family’s estate, Frederick takes a train to Transylvania. Once there, he befriends hunchback servant Igor (Marty Feldman), falls head over heels for attractive lab assistant Inga (Teri Garr), and meets strange housekeeper Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman). Though he has no intention of becoming a mad scientist like his grandfather, Frederick gives into temptation when he finds a secret underground library and lab. After Frederick gives life to a stitched-together monster (Peter Boyle), things don’t quite go according to plan and hijinks ensue.

youngfrank-2

Apparently, the making of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN was a hugely positive experience for pretty much everybody involved. That sense of fun translates across the screen as the performances are enthusiastic and everyone brings a different wacky personality to the table. Gene Wilder plays Frederick Frankenstein as a crazed mad scientist who frequently attempts to justify his (literally) monstrous actions. Wilder purposely goes over-the-top in many scenes and his loud line delivery provides equally loud laughs. Marty Feldman practically steals the show as bug-eyed Igor, constantly using his odd appearance as the butt of many jokes and using sheer facial expressions to get huge guffaws.

youngfrank-3

Teri Garr plays love-interest Inga and has many puns/innuendos that still hold up today. Madeline Kahn has five funny scenes as Victor’s stuck-up fiancé. Cloris Leachman plays the memorable Frau Blucher and has the best running gag in the entire film. One small detail that I hadn’t noticed in past viewings is that Blucher looks progressively more annoyed each time this gag hits, making it even funnier as it goes along. Kenneth Mars plays the visually hilarious, thickly accented Inspector Kemp and though he doesn’t receive a ton of scenes, he still makes the most of his screen time. The great Peter Boyle (who I mainly know from his role in EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) plays Frankenstein’s monster and pulls off a hell of a funny performance with very few spoken lines, though his “Putting on the Ritz” sequence never gets old.

youngfrank-4

Besides being a highly entertaining romp from start to finish, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is also extremely well-made. The music hearkens back to the old Universal monster movies and the black-and-white cinematography is beautifully executed. To add even more atmosphere to this classic horror spoof, the sets (complete with background paintings) and costumes are spot on for the films being parodied. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN’s best moments come in specific redone scenes from the FRANKENSTEIN movies with tweaks that come off as absolutely hysterical, two highlights being the Monster’s encounter with a little girl and unforgettable physical comedy with Gene Hackman as a blind hermit.

youngfrank-5

Part of the reason that YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN works as well as it does is that the film has many types of comedy within its 105 minutes. There’s goofy slapstick, clever wordplay, lots of fourth wall breaking, running gags, silly visual jokes, a fair share of raunchiness, and much more. On a technical level, the filmmaking is fantastic and the atmosphere of old Universal monster movies is perfect. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is an entertaining, charming and absolutely hilarious horror spoof that still feels timeless over four decades later! Besides being one of Mel Brooks’ best films, this is also one of the best spoof/parody movies ever made!

Grade: A+

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some Scary Images, Action and Rude Humor

HotelTr2 poster

Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky

Written by: Robert Smigel & Adam Sandler

Voices of: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Asher Blinkoff, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Mel Brooks, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Rob Riggle & Jon Lovitz

I enjoy the original HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA. Though it had nothing on other kid-friendly horror flicks like PARANORMAN and FRANKENWEENIE of the same year (2012), HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA served as a colorful, innocent and funny take on classic monsters. It wasn’t nearly as bad as one might expect an Adam Sandler animated comedy to be either. I had fun watching it, even though it didn’t quite know how to end. I wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea of a sequel and the trailer for this second installment had me intrigued. The advertising for HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 make it seem as if this second film goes in a different direction than the first and for the most part, it does. However, this sequel carries over some of the exact same problems that the original movie suffered from as well.

HotelTr2 1

Since the events of the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, Mavis (Dracula’s daughter) and Johnny (her human boyfriend) have tied the knot. A short while later, the two have a kid. It’s up in the air as to whether their son, Dennis, is a human or a vampire. If he’s a monster, the kid will sprout fangs within his first five years. Dracula becomes concerned that his grandson isn’t the bloodsucking fiend that he hoped he would be and does his best to bring out the monster inside of Dennis, all while Johnny introduces Mavis to the human world in California. There’s only a few days until Dennis’s fifth birthday. Is Dennis actually a vampire? If he’s only human, will Dracula (his vampa, short for vampire grandpa) be willing to accept him for who he is? I guess you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

HotelTr2 2

I’ll address the positives first. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 is very well animated. There’s a good atmosphere hovering over the whole film that feels like a kid-friendly version of something like THE ADDAMS FAMILY. The characters are all creative and creepily cute in their designs. I especially liked the inclusion of Dracula’s grandpa, Vlad, who appears to be an almost Nosferatu-like presence. The voice cast all fit their roles, with my favorite still being Steve Buscemi as a worn-out werewolf with over 300 kids. The subplot involving Mavis and Johnny in California is more enjoyable for the adults than it really is for children. What’s especially funny are the misguided lengths that Johnny’s parents will go to in order to make Mavis feel accepted in their mortal home. These moments did get some solid laughs out of me.

HotelTr2 3

The main plot at hand focuses on Dracula and his monstrous crew trying to get Dennis to sprout his potentially nonexistent fangs. While the film gets off to a slow, episodic start, it really finds its stride when Dracula hits the road with Dennis. During this middle section, the film moves from creative set-piece to creative set-piece as the monsters try to showcase their old-school abilities (e.g. the mummy conjuring a sand storm, the werewolf killing an innocent animal, etc.) and ultimately finding that they’re not as young as they used to be. This middle section is also chock full of big laughs for both children and adults. As well-paced as the momentum is, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 doesn’t stick the landing at all. This movie has a really stupid ending. The film seemed as if it was building towards a potentially powerful message that could be taken to heart by both kids and adults, ultimately something you wouldn’t expect at all from a sequel to an animated Adam Sandler comedy. The screenplay botches this by introducing a last-minute baddie for no apparent reason other than to have an obvious villain and also includes a repetitive, cheap fight sequence. This doesn’t exactly sink this entire film up to that point, especially considering that the first movie suffered from the exact same problem, but it is disappointing.

HotelTr2 4

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 should definitely keep kids entertained for just under 90 minutes with its colorful animation, obvious jokes and whatnot. There are pieces of adult humor that will go right over children’s heads and the middle is definitely the strongest part of the whole film. Ultimately, if you liked the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, then you’ll enjoy this second installment. I consider them on the same playing field. Both films have strong animation, a good premise, and solid laughs throughout. However, they both drag a little too long and don’t quite stick the landing due to tacked-on, dumb endings. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 is cute, harmless fun and that’s all it was ever meant to be.

Grade: B-

HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I (1981)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

HistoryWorld poster

Directed by: Mel Brooks

Written by: Mel Brooks

Starring: Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Shecky Greene, Cloris Leachman, Sid Caesar, Gregory Hines, Mary-Margaret Humes, Ron Carey & Pamela Stephenson

History naturally seems to have a limitless supply of funny material as evidenced by plenty of stand-up. Mel Brooks, a comedic force to be reckoned with in the 70’s, decided to tackle five various historical periods in a skit-like structure. HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I was a hit at the box office. Decades after its release, the film seems to be polarizing among fans of Mel’s spoofs. Watching it for the first time, I can see how the film was drastically funnier during its original release (aiming for a few shock value laughs that are fairly tame today), but I found it be a mixed bag with a couple of segments being far more accomplished than the rest.

MSDHIOF FE007

THE STONE AGE: The film starts off with a short 5-7 minute piece about stupid cavemen making basic, early discoveries. Narrated by Orson Welles and fuelled by simple (but predictable) jokes, this opening skit feels cheap and a tad underwhelming. However, there are a few good laughs to be had (especially, the birth of an artist). It’s simple, stupid, and silly as to be expected. B-

THE OLD TESTAMENT: Just from the title card alone, I thought to myself “Mel Brooks is doing the Old Testament! This going to be awesome!” Turns out that I was mistaken because this is merely a quick 1-2 minute piece about Moses receiving the 10 Commandments and something going slightly awry. There is one single laugh to be had, but it’s not very clever and was revealed in the two-minute trailer. Seeing as this was just one quick joke, it makes one wonder how much better and longer this segment could have been if Mel Brooks really tried here. C+

MSDHIOF FE013

THE ROMAN EMPIRE: Comicus is a philosopher called to perform at Julius Caesar’s palace. Things go wrong when he makes some potentially deadly, politically incorrect jokes at the Emperor’s expense. This segment makes up a majority of the movie and almost seemed like Brooks mainly wanted to do this as a feature, but couldn’t get full funding from the studio. It mainly serves as an excuse for a whole lot of sexual innuendo, even pot jokes, set in ancient Rome. These jokes are hit or miss, but mostly hit. This skit also runs a tad too long. The extra few minutes are almost made worth it though as the inclusion of a Bible punchline made me laugh. Also, Dom DeLuise steals this show with his portrayal of Caesar as a gluttonous buffon. B

MSDHIOF EC001

THE SPANISH INQUISITION: This is my favorite segment, but sadly, one of the shorter ones. This is just a musical number about the Spanish Inquisition torturing the Jews in order to get them to covert to Christianity. That doesn’t exactly sound like the ideal recipe for hilarious comedy, but it’s very light-hearted and clever in execution (pun slightly intended). Never once getting graphic, featuring an up-beat catchy tune and Mel Brooks running around as the infamous inquisitor Torquemada. This is funniest take that I’ve seen on the Spanish Inquisition, second only to Monty Python. A

MSDHIOF FE010

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION: HISTORY OF THE WORLD commits the worst crime that any anthology film can commit by going out on its weakest segment. The prospect of Mel Brooks spoofing The French Revolution sounds like it would make for a fun time. However, the sexual innuendo and bad puns are painful here for some reason. The overall plot, or lack thereof, seems weak in comparison to the earlier segments. Especially bad are the moments of fourth wall breaking in which Mel Brooks turns to the camera, winks and says “It’s good to be king.” This might have earned a chuckle in its first usage from me, but he recycles this catchphrase three more times. This segment isn’t all bad as there are a couple of good laughs. Moments involving a guillotine and another recreational shooting scene did work for me, but the rest is just tired and lame. C

MSDHIOF FE004

To cap everything off, there’s a fake teaser for HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART II that offers glimpses of “Hitler On Ice” and “Jews In Space.” Both of those faux skits look and sound far more entertaining than almost everything in PART I (with the exception of the Spanish Inquisition musical number). Overall, HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I is an okay comedy. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see the entire film, but there are a couple of moments that are worth looking up (the full Spanish Inquisition skit is available on YouTube).

Grade: B-

MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild Action and brief Rude Humor

MPS poster

Directed by: Rob Minkoff

Written by: Craig Wright

Voices of: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Allison Janney, Stanley Tucci, Patrick Warburton, Zach Callison, Leila Birch & Mel Brooks

MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN could have gone wrong in so many areas. The track record is less-than-stellar for adaptations of THE ROCKY & BULLWINKLE SHOW (e.g. DUDLEY DO-RIGHT and THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE). This was also the first DreamWorks film to delve into the licensed characters they acquired from Classic Media. It’s a bit of an oddball choice to pick the educational cartoon that wasn’t too great when compared to others of its time. With strong writing, there was a slim possibility of this feature working. Lo and behold, MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN turned out to be a splendid piece of family entertainment. It never talks down to its audience and is full of genuine humor.  The storyline will keep kids and adults entertained.

MCDMIPE EC049

Mr. Peabody is far from your average hound. The obvious reason is that he talks. In his early days, Peabody didn’t care to sniff other canines’ rears, lick people’s faces or chase his tail. He found the idea of fetch to be an exercise in futility, because the human would just throw the stick again. Because of his desire for knowledge and a biting sense of sarcasm, the canine genius never had a real home. So when he found an abandoned baby named Sherman, Peabody received permission from the court to adopt him. Peabody educates his son using an invention of his own creation. It’s called the WABAC (pronounced Way Back) machine and it can take you to any point in time. This is how Sherman learns about history.

MCDMIPE EC051

On his first day of school, Sherman gets into a scuffle with a bratty girl named Penny. This brings the unwanted attention of a dog-hating social worker who has the intention of taking Sherman away from Peabody. In order to reconcile, Peabody invites Penny’s family over for dinner, but some hijinks ensue with the WABAC machine. Peabody, Sherman, and Penny wind up on an adventure through various historical periods and trying to save the space-time continuum from imploding in on itself.

MCDMIPE EC055

Most of the humor in MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN consists of jokes that only adults in the audience will understand. I don’t remember a single fart joke in the entire film. It’s not that kids won’t enjoy it though, because the story being told is a load of creative fun for all-ages. The infinite landscape of the adventure begins with an opening sequence set in the French Revolution and plenty of notable historical figures make appearances throughout. Arguably, the funniest side character is King Agamemnon (voiced by Patrick Warburton). The characters of Peabody, Sherman, and Penny are all done very well and give us reason to root for them to make it out of their quest in one piece. There are times when each of them are threatened in different ways, but none of these felt clichéd.

MCDMIPE EC054

The pacing of the film never gives time to lag and the adventure itself never misses a mark. Some of the puns can be pretty bad at points, but the self-aware nature of the film transforms them from painfully cheesy into forgivable. Hitting beat-by-beat in some of the plot areas can be a little too familiar. In fact, I felt that the entire subplot with the social worker could have been cut out entirely. That thread was nearly pointless save for a scene that could have been brought about in a much simpler manner. Sometimes, things don’t need to be overly complicated and MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN felt cramped at points in the overall storyline.

MCDMIPE EC050

The animation is gorgeous. There’s a cartoony quality to it, but it is a high realized cartoon! One sequence owes a lot to BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and will entertain fans of that film. Ideas of time travel paradoxes make the adventure more thrilling. I enjoyed every single minute. MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN is the kind of uplifting adventure that the whole family will enjoy. There is a subplot that seemed almost pointless by the conclusion and the adventure hits all the familiar beats, but never once did I think the movie necessarily did anything out-and-out poorly. It may be full of science and educational material, but it’s equally full of heart and laughs. Highly recommended!

Grade: B+

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑