The Shelf: “The Incredible Mel Brooks,” “Brave,” “Doctor Who,” and “The Watch”
by Brian Walton on November 13, 2012
The Shelf is our weekly look at the new Blu-rays and boxed sets coming out on this holiest of holy days, New Movie Tuesday. This week we get to take a peek inside the brain of a comic genius, a Scottish princess story that deserves a second look, and a carefree alien invasion comedy that suffered from some of the worst timing in box office history.
Mel Brooks is a comedy god. We all know this, but, unfortunately, when something is common knowledge, we have a tendency to take it for granted. We can be thankful that the folks at Shout Factory and Brooksfilms have put together an incredible set to remind everyone just how spectacularly funny Mel Brooks is. The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy is an archive of TV specials, appearances, shorts and footage running from Mel’s earliest days as a writer for Sid Caeser’s Your Show of Shows to a brand new long form interview with Mel about his classic films. This set is a master class in all thing Mel Brooks, with a 60-page book replete with classic photos, notes from Mel’s past, and essays from luminaries like Leonard Maltin and Gene Wilder. From his days in the Borscht Belt entertaining vacationing Jewish families in the Catskills to his Emmy winning portrayal of crazy Uncle Phil on Mad About You, the set has video of it all.
If you’re not familiar with Mel’s career outside of his movies like The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Spaceballs, then there is a wealth of comedy history for you to start digging through here. Some of the highlights include: Excavating the 2000 Year Old Man, the story of Mel and Carl creating the 2000 Year Old Man and then reuniting to do the 2000 Year Old Man in the year 2000; Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett Together Again, bringing the talk show legend and his favorite guest together for an intimate evening of questions and storytelling; vintage appearances by Mel on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Dick Cavett Show; and a CD with lost comedy bits and songs from Mel’s films. Even his Hitler rap to promote To Be or Not to Be is included. The DVD set is a perfect companion to the Mel Brooks film box set that Fox produced, and it is a must own set for fans of comedy, Hollywood history, and exceptional human beings.
This year saw two impressive things come from the marriage of Disney and Pixar that were role reversals of sorts for the two animation studios. With Wreck-It Ralph, Disney Animation approached a movie in a very Pixar way and was rewarded with one of the best films they’ve ever done. On the flip side of that coin is Pixar’s Brave, the studio’s first attempt at a princess story that the “House that Mickey Built” is famous for. The attempt does not make for a traditional Disney fairytale. Instead of focusing on a romantic pairing, the film focuses on familial relationships and becoming your own person, rather than letting stereotypes and expectations dictate who you are to become. It was an unexpected approach to classic fairytale storytelling that left people either fully invested or scratching their heads wondering what they just saw. Brave will be remembered fondly for years to come, and soon the mild critical backlash it received this past summer will be a blip on an insignificant foot note.
Revisit the first part of season 7 of Doctor Who on Blu-ray and say goodbye to the Ponds all over again. Of the five episodes in Part 1, “Asylum of the Daleks,” “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” and “The Angels Take Manhattan” are standouts, with the introduction of a Dalek that we might get to see again, finally meeting Rory’s dad Brian Williams (played beautifully by Mark Williams), and saying goodbye to Amy and Rory. As we all countdown to the Christmas special and more new episodes next year, remember where we’ve been and get excited for where it’s going.
Ben Stiller can’t catch a break. In 2001, Zoolander was one of the first films released in the wake of 9/11 and its box office numbers were abysmal, though years later the film was vindicated as a modern comedy classic on DVD. Eleven years later and with a young man’s death allegedly at the hands of the head of a neighborhood watch group in Florida, The Watch entered into similarly shaky box office prospects. This frat-pack comedy about a neighborhood watch that has to protect the world from alien invasion is a light, cheesy sci-fi adventure. The jokes often go for the easy pay off and the actors are playing characters we’ve seen them play time and time again, but The Watch is comedy comfort food. You watch this because you want to see a movie about man-children doing stupid things and not understanding the consequences. Not cerebrally challenging, but definitely a fun movie to shut off your brain for.
Also Out this Week
Pixar Short Films 2 – Pixar features may be a grand event, but they’ve proven it only takes a few minutes for them to pull on our heart strings. The second volume of Pixar shorts contains the memorable Presto, Partly Cloudy, Day and Night, and a personal favorite, La Luna, in addition to the shorts based on Toy Story (Hawaiian Vacation) and Cars (Air Mater, Time Travel Mater).