Blu-ray Review “Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles: 40th Anniversary”

Actors: Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little, Madeleine Kahn, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens
Directors: Mel Brooks
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Run Time: 93 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“Blazing Saddles” is no question of the funniest and most outrageous film ever made. I even believe that it was one of the first Mel Brooks movies that I ever experience. I remember my dad telling me about the bean campfire scene growing up and the guy who punches the horse. These are classic scenes and can never be topped. Mel Brooks is a legend of comedy and this film is easily one of his best. This is also the first time that this film is being released solo on Blu-ray as it was last available as part of “The Mel Brooks Collection”. The film also co-stars Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn, who are also at their comedic best.

Official Premise: The railroad’s got to run through the town of Rock Ridge. How do you drive out the townfolk in order to steal their land? Send in the toughest gang you’ve got…and name a new sheriff who’ll last about 24 hours. But that’s not really the plot of Blazing Saddles, just the pretext. Once Mel Brooks’ lunatic film many call his best gets started, logic is lost in a blizzard of gags, jokes, quips, puns, howlers, growlers and outrageous assaults upon good taste or any taste at all.

This 40th Anniversary Bu-ray includes 10 quotable art cards with funny quotes and images from the film. That was a big draw for me but also there is a brand new featurette “Blaze of Glory: Mel Brooks’ Wild, Wild West”, which has the legend talking about the film and it’s effect on his career. There is also fantastic vintage extras including a must listen Mel Brooks’ commentary track, a cast reunion documentary, “Black Bart,” the 1975 television pilot inspired by the movie and lastly some deleted scenes and theatrical trailer included. If you love this film, as every comedy fan should and don’t own “The Mel Brooks Collection”, I would run out and surly pick this up!

Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the funniest movie ever made! Get the Blazing Saddles: 40th Anniversary Blu-ray, available May 6

Blu-ray Review “Mel Brooks’ The Producers”

Actors: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars
Directors: Mel Brooks
MPAA Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Shout! Factory
Release Date: July 2, 2013
Run Time: 88 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

One of the best lines ever in a film “I’m hysterical, I’m having hysterics. When I get like this, I can’t stop. (Max throws water on him) I’M WET!!! I’M WET!!! Cause, I’m hysterical!!! (Max slaps him) I’M IN PAIN!!! I’M IN PAIN!!! And I’m wet and Cause, I’m still hysterical!”

“Mel Brooks’ The Producers (1968)” is easily one of the best comedies of all-time. It stars Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder and is 90 minutes of non-stop laughs. The life of this film was replenished with the 2001 Broadway musical with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. The show became one of Broadway’s biggest success and even spawned a remake from with the duo in 2005. Though the 2005 remake left a bad taste in our mouths…in plain English…it was terrible. So I am thrilled to see the original film back in the spotlight. 45 years have passed and it is just as funny as the first time I saw it.

Official Synopsis: From the endlessly funny mind of filmmaker Mel Brooks comes this triple-Oscar-winning explosion of pure comic lunacy about low-rent Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Mostel) and his high-strung accountant Leo Bloom (Wilder). They discover that, with the help of a few gullible investors, they can make more money on a flop than on a hit. So armed with the worst show ever written – Springtime For Hitler – and an equally horrific cast, this double-dealing duo is banking on disaster. But when their sure-to-offend musical becomes a surprise smash hit, they find themselves in the middle of a Broadway blitzkrieg.

This Collector’s Edition Blu-ray comes with a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack with a reversible cover art. The Blu-ray features a brand new HD transfer and it really looks amazing. It is hard to believe that this film is 45 years old but a nice face lift and has never looked better. DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track works perfectly with the films dialogue and musically numbers. If you prefer the original mono track, that is also available on the Blu-ray.

The special features include all extras from previous editions including the featurette “Mel And His Movies: The Producers”, which is a great bonus. There is an hour-long making-of documentary called “The Making of The Producers”, with cast and crew talking about the production. This is a must see for all fans of the film. Also included are a sketch gallery, a 3-minute deleted scene, a photo gallery and a theatrical trailer. I would have loved to see a commentary track from Brooks or Wilder but still a very impressive first time on Blu-ray release.

Robert Trachtenberg talks about working on American Masters’ “Mel Brooks: Make A Noise”

Robert Trachtenberg is the Writer, director, producer and editor on the latest American Masters special “Mel Brooks: Make A Noise”. Robert has made several films for “American Masters” including specials on Cary Grant, Gene Kelly & George Cukor. He is a bestselling author (“When I Knew”) and award-winning photographer. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Robert about his work with Mel Brooks and his love for photography.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you end up working on “Mel Brooks: Make A Noise” for American Masters?
Robert Trachtenberg: Susan Lacy, who is executive producer of the series, had secured Mel. She thought my sense of humor would pair up nicely with his, so she called and asked ifI’d like to direct the film.

MG: What is it like working with a legend like Mel Brooks?
RT: The old saying, “comedy is serious business” is true: he’s very professional, actually very “Old Hollywood” in the way he runs things. We’d meet once a month, film for as long as he could stand, and then do it again the following month.

MG: How much footage was shot to make up this 1 1/2 hour special?
RT: We shot about thirty hours of interviews just with Mel alone over a four month period.

What is your favorite Mel Brooks film?
RT: Probably YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN – I think it’s the most fully realized of all his films.

MG: How long did it take to get that excellent shot of Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks?
RT: They gave me ten minutes! Guys who cut their teeth in live television have zero patience for an entire shoot – they expect everything to happen fast.

MG: How does this compare from your American Masters specials for Gene Kelly and Cary Grant?
RT: This time my subject was alive so that made a big difference. It’s impossible to compare in that Mel required a completely different approach – I knew if I asked the questions correctly, I wouldn’t need to rely on critics and academics in the interviews, for example. I really wanted Mel to tell his own story, firsthand. If I did my job right, he would be honest and candid about what worked and what didn’t in his career.

MG: I am a big fan of your photography; what does it take to get the perfect shot?
RT: I think the ability to work on your feet – you go in with one idea, and then it can quickly morph into something completely different due to a variety of factors. And you have to be malleable to that.

MG: I have to ask what was it like photographing Larry Hagman?
RT: Perfect example – for some reason I thought he’d be serious, and he couldn’t have been more of a lovable goofball.

MG: Do you have plans to write and direct more in the future?
RT: Definitely. I love that Director’s Guild health insurance!


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DVD Review “American Masters – Mel Brooks: Make a Noise”

Actors: Mel Brooks
Directors: Robert Trachtenberg
MPAA Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Shout! Factory
DVD Release Date: May 21, 2013
Run Time: 90 minutes

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2 out of 5 stars

Who doesn’t love Mel Brooks? He has delivers some of the best comedy in the business over the last 60 years.  Whether it is film, TV, music or Broadway.  The man has done it all.  This latest American Masters program takes a look at Mel Brooks’ career in “Make a Noise”.  I grew up watching his films from “History of the World, Part 1” to “Blazing Saddles” to The Producers” and “Young Frankenstein”. This type of comedy always hit home with me and still has as I have grown up. I look forward to sharing these wonderful films with my daughter now as she grows.  They are timeless and will remain that way through time. This program was a great look into Mel Brooks, whether you know everything about him or are just meeting him for the first time.  There is a little something for everyone.

Official Premise: After 60 years in show business, Mel Brooks has earned more major awards than any other living entertainer; he is one of 14 EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) winners. Yet, the comedy giant has energetically avoided a documentary profile from being made, even issuing an informal gag order on his friends – until now. Brooks has agreed to throw himself into a new documentary about his storied career, giving American Masters exclusive interviews and complete access to his film archives.

In the film we get taken through Mel’s life starting from his childhood growing up in Brooklyn to his start in the buisness to his marriage of Anne Bancroft to his Broadway career. There are new interviews with Mel Brooks, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Cloris Leachman, Carl Reiner and Joan Rivers. These are people who know Mel and that have worked wiht him. They give wonderful insight into his career and who the real “Mel Brooks” is.  The program runs 90 minutes but I could have watch for at least 3 hours without becoming boring or repetitive.  The guy has done so much there is no way to sum it up in just 90 minutes.  The bonus feature included on this DVD is over 15 minutes of deleted segments.

David Brooks talks new horror/thriller “ATM”

David Brooks is the director of the new horror/thriller “ATM”. The film is also David’s feature directorial debut. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with David about the film and what he has planned next.

MS: You’ve done a couple of short films but “ATM” is your first feature. How did you get involved with the project?
DB: I’m good friends with Peter Safran, who co-produced “Buried,” which was (writer) Chris Sparling’s other feature. He had seen the short I had done coming out of NYU called “Gone.” He really liked it. He was working on the post-production of “Buried.” I read the (“ATM”) script and really just started badgering him. I then started working on a draft of the script with Chris…that was the gestation of it.

MS: “ATM” takes place pretty much AT an ATM. How were you able to build and sustain the suspense in what is pretty much a one set film?
DB: It’s certainly a challenge for sure. But I think that was one of the things that brought me to the project…to have to figure out how to do that. For me it was about getting the right amount of balance between the perspectives. Essentially we have three characters inside a vestibule and a man outside. So a lot of the tension comes from playing between the perspectives. Them inside. He outside. Then within those I try to play with who is seeing what at what moment. At times you may think you’re looking through the man’s purview from outside and then he steps through the frame. It’s just a matter of continually finding ways to keep the audience unsettled. That was the goal and we do that with the shifting perspectives.

MS: You’re working with a pretty young cast. How were they to work with?
DB: Really, really fantastic. I was really lucky to cast all three of them. It was really great for me as a first time feature director to be working with such talents. They were all very special…they all brought something unique to their characters. We all decided that we would work hard and they answered the challenge.

MS: You edited commercials as well as most of your earlier film work. Editing seems to be, from Robert Wise to Martin Scorsese, an almost perfect segue into directing. Did that experience help you when you set up your shots and planned on where to put the camera?
DB: It was a natural progression. Working on a low budget film, especially one as intimate as this one, it was a great opportunity for me to bring my comfort in the editing room to the table. That definitely was a big part of it.

MS: The film is currently available on Video on Demand and opens on April 6th. What is the release schedule like? Are you opening wide or just hoping to start small and build on word of mouth?
DB: We’re going to start limited and hopefully grow from there. We’re getting great response on the VOD. People are getting a chance to see the film. I believe we’re starting out in six cities, expanding to six more the following week and hopefully growing from there. I think for a small movie that people are able to see it on VOD. But I want people to get that big screen theatre experience…I hope they decide to see it in the cinema as soon as possible!

MS: Do you have your next project lined up?
DB: That’s a good question (laughs). I’m working on a few things but for the most part really I’m just reading scripts and trying to find my next thing. The short answer is I’m not sure but hopefully I’ll know soon enough.

Terry Brooks talks about latest book in the “Legends of Shannara” series called “The Measure of the Magic”

Terry Brooks is a fantasy fiction writer and has had 23 New York Times bestsellers and over 21 million copies of his books in print. He is known best for his book “Magic Kingdom for Sale…Sold!” in his “Magic Kingdom of Landover”, which is a six book series.  His other well known series for the “Shannara” series, which currently is a 24 book series with 3 more on the way.  Terry’s latest book in the “Legends of Shannara” series is called “The Measure of the Magic”, which was released August 2011. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Terry about his books, his movie adapation plans and his process for writing.

Mike Gencarell: Let’s start with the “Measure of Magic”, which just came out. Tell us about how you came up with the idea for the second book in that series?
Terry Brooks: Well it wasn’t too difficult. I write in groups of books anyway. They’re all historical sagas so they take place in different time periods.  I’m in the midst now of working on a set of what will be probably 9 or 10 books on the pre-history of the Shadow World. So when you sit down to start a project, you sort of plot out what the story is gonna be and as you work on it it tells you before you even get started on your writing, for the most part, how many books it’s gonna be. So, I’ve actually known that this was gonna be a two book set for about three years. It helps if you think ahead on these things, otherwise you spend a lot of time trying to play catch-up.

MG:  So you mentioned that you have the next chapter for the trilogy coming up. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
TB: Anybody coming in to this series will take one look at this thing and say “Wait a minute, this guy has 18 books that take place in 15 different time periods, and he is still writing? What the heck! I won’t live that long.” And it is confusing, and part of what I do to make it easy is to list all the books on the front and put them in chronological order and also put them in groups.  So every new reader can say “Well I can start with book number one of any set.” And it wouldn’t be a problem. It doesn’t matter if you read all the stuff that went before or all the stuff that is gonna come after, you just want to not be reading in the middle of a set. So with that said, I have been writing with “Bears in the Black Staff” last year and now “Measure in the Magic”.  In that two book set I’ve been writing in the pre-history of Shadow Realm which takes place long before Sword, which was the seminal book because it was the first one published. Now with “Legacy”, I am writing in the future of that world, many hundreds of years in the future, and I am working on a three book set that basically plays off of the work that I did in about six books before that. Although they are not directly connected, they work off of that history and it’s going to run for a three book set.  I’m going to publish in 2012 and 2013.

MG: What would you say would be the most difficult part of writing “Measure of Magic”? Anything that stands out?
TB: You know, I will tell you…I have been around long enough that I mercifully forget most of what is difficult from one book and the next. All I can tell you is that there is two things that happen with every book. There is a period in there where you come up against something you weren’t expecting and you have to thrash your way through it. It doesn’t matter how much you plan…doesn’t matter how much time you put into it ahead.   Somewhere along the line you will come up against a wall and you’re going to have to figure out what you are going to do about it and how you are going to get through it. The other thing that happens at some point, maybe half way to three quarters through the book, I become convinced that I have written the biggest piece of crap in all humanity. I’m just sure of it! I look at it and I think “This is not only no good, it is beyond being bad. No one is going to buy this, this is the end of my career right now!” So I go out and I settle down after a couple days and things get back to normal. But it never fails, at some point I’ve just decided “I took a wrong turn, this is not working out, I don’t like it” You know, one of those. You know I am trying to think about what it is about “Measure” that was difficult in particular…and I can’t. The problem is that I am publishing the book today that I wrote two years ago, and I’ve already written two new books since then so I am thinking about the books where I am today, so answering questions about the specifics of this book requires a lot of brain activity and I don’t have much to offer [laughs].

MG: That is funny, because us talking about the books is like the time line in the books, how they span across different time lines.
TB: I am always amazed when I get these kids, 13 or 14 year old kids, sometimes younger, and they say “You know, I’ve read all your books!” Well you know, everybody says that, so I said “Oh, ok.” And they insist they have. So then I ask them a couple questions, and they have everything memorized. They will proceed to tell me this thing in book four on page 300 I wrote this thing. I’ve learned not to argue with it because they are always right and I am never right [laughs].  I’ve decided that is the future and to just let it go.

MG: One of my favorites is “Magic Kingdom for Sale: Sold!”. Do you ever see that being made into a feature film at all?
TB: God did someone pay you to ask me that question? I mean jeeze, this is great! I’ve had that particular series of books under option on and off over the past 20 years and it has just gone under option again. I can’t talk about the specifics of it because it is right at the crucial final few points of negotiation and contracts, so I have to wait for that first. But what I can tell you is that it will be options by a major motion picture studio and production company and that they are saying they want to do a series of movies based on that whole series. I’ve talked to people from both the production company and movie studio and they seem to be real fans of the books.  So I am trying to get used to the idea that everyone in Hollywood grew up reading my books, which is hard for me to accept because I don’t like the idea that everyone is so much younger than I am but they seem to be committed to it.  So we’ll see and  that would be great. I have always figured that “Magic Kingdom” would be made into a movie because it’s the easiest book I’ve written to get made into a movie. I think with all the stuff with “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” using CGI that it is much easier these days to figure out how to do special effects than it was, say 10 or 15 years ago.

MG: Do you think once they make “Magic Kingdom” into a movie that you will write a sequel to “Princess”?
TB: Oh yeah. I will probably write the sequel anyway at some point but I would like to hold off until they actually get the point where they are doing the movie to help push the book. I also have so many projects on the board that “Magic Kingdom” at the moment isn’t the most pressing one.

MG: Who, or what, inspired the design for the main characters in “Magic Kingdom for Sale: Sold!”? Is there anything specific?
TB: I don’t normally base characters on real people, they are usually combinations of different people I know or different characteristics, that sort of thing. “Magic Kingdom” is different though because it is very autobiographical in a way. That whole series is about my transition from being a lawyer to being a writer. If you can read between the lines you will see what some of that is about. I based the main character, Ben Holiday, on myself. He is very much like myself, except the part about boxing because I don’t box. Abernathy, the dog who is a character that was a man that was turned into a dog by the wizard by a mistake, that dog was my dog. That dog used to come in there every day while I was working and it would lay there on the floor and nap while I was working and I thought “You know, this dog is worthless, there must be some way to get something out of this dog.” So finally I decided I would have a character based on this dog, that was also a soft coated wheaten terrier. I figured that way maybe I could make some money off of him anyway.

MG: So who do you think you identify with, out of all of your characters, the most?
TB: Well you can certainly say I am closer to Ben Holiday than any other characters, but I think when you are a writer, there is some part of yourself in all of your characters. You have to understand how they think and how they work. Even the really bad ones. You have to have some sense of what they are all about, so there is some piece of you in all the characters to a certain extent. I guess Holiday is the one who’s pretty much closest to who I am.

MG: Other then “Magic Kingdom”, do you have any plans to get any of your other books made into films?
TB: “Shannara” has been under option too, on and off over the past 20 years, and it was an option up until about a year ago. It is back out there. There is still interest, there are people that still talk about it. The big thing is that because I’ve been around so long and because I’m getting old and mean [laughs], I’m not going to give anybody anything unless I am happy with what I am hearing. If the studios come around and show interest I will ask them to tell me something different…tell me something good about what they will do. If I like what I hear I will be more interested in thinking about making a movie. A long time ago I said “What’s going to happen to me is exactly what happened to Tolkien; It’s going to get jacked around and 30 years after I’m dead it’s going to get made.” Then my kids will benefit and I won’t be there but that’s the way it goes.

MG: So who or what are you currently reading now? Are there any favorite artists or inspiration?
TB: Oh yeah, I read all the time. That’s pretty much all I do. I’m kind of a boring person. My sister is a writer too, I am reading her latest book right now what she is presenting to a division of Random House. At the moment I’m reading Lev Grossman, “The Magicians” sequel. I’m going to read “The Last Werewolf.” My publisher keeps me well supplied in a lot of books that are new because everyone wants a quote. So I get to read a lot of science fiction-fantasy that comes from all over the place that is new. I like to read new writers and see what is new that is out there, and what is interesting. I read a lot of mysteries, contemporary fiction and a lot of history.

MG: Do you find that your writing process has changed?
TB: Oh yeah, it changes. I always thought it would not change when I started out, I don’t know why I thought that. I figured I would keep working the same way. But when you get older it changes. I used to work night and now I work from 6am in the morning until noon or  2pm in the afternoon. That time frame that I work is all together different. I used to work every day, I don’t do that anymore. What used to take twice as long I can do in half the time now, and that’s just because I’m more experienced. You write 35 books and you learn something. That’s one of the good things about it because I’ve become more comfortable with it. I don’t spend a lot of time agonizing over stuff like I did in the past because and I don’t have to since I know what the process is. The main thing that you have to do is stay hungry, and it’s hard after 35 books in 35 years. I have to spend time thinking about stories that interest me and plots and themes that will interest me for a whole year if I sit down to write them so I don’t get bored halfway through. That really is the thing I have to work the hardest at these days in order that the books stay fresh and interesting and they don’t put people to sleep.

MG: Are there any projects that you scrapped because you got bored with them?
TB: The trick is if I am starting to get bored…it’s time to make a change. That’s the main rule. If I get to the point where I am working on something and that’s the way I’m feeling about it then I have to get rid of it and start over and find out where there is a better place to be. But it happens to every writer in some point in every book. You write your way into a place where it’s not very interesting and you need to get yourself out of it.

MG: Do you have any advice for any aspiring writers on how to get published or write their own novel?
TB: You know I am so far removed from that. I probably don’t have a lot of good advice on how to get published. In the old days I had lots of advice on it because I was closer to the subject matter and I knew a lot of writers getting published. What I kind of know is because the publishing landscape has changed and everything is getting published through ebook and online publishing. There are a lot of new avenues for people to get published these days. You have to kind of think outside of the box. The traditional approach still works but it’s not the only approach anymore. There have been a lot of very successful authors that have simly offered their stuff free online. They develop a following and then took all of that to a publisher and said “Look, I have 100,000 people out here who will read my stuff, how about we do a book?” The publishers are looking for that sort of thing. I guess the biggest piece of advice for people who are trying to write a book is that if you don’t love the process more than you love the money, or the idea of the money, or the idea of being famous, or the idea of whatever, then you are in the wrong business. This is a job like any other and you should really love this job. You should be really fascinated by what’s involved in doing it if you want to be successful for more than one book or in the long run. It’s the thing that’s kept me going more than anything else. It’s fun to sit there and look at the books on the shelf once in a while but mostly I don’t care. I’m mostly interested in what am I going to write next, or how am I going to make this next book work, or how am I going to make this next book better then anything I have ever done before. That is kind of what I think you need to feel that you’re going to do every time out.

MG: Do you have anything you might want to announce exclusively to us?
TB: Well I will tell you what, the first news I get about the movie, I will make an arrangement and we will have another interview and we will talk about it in more depth.


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