The Great Buster Poster

Documentary on the life and works of comic genius Buster Keaton, directed by Peter Bogdanovic.

Buster Keaton is not someone as well known Charlie Chaplin.  But this is by no means to say that Buster Keaton is no less a genius.  Myself, I first saw Buster Keaton in a supporting role in Richard Lester’s 1966’s comedy A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.  The doc, THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION includes a footage of Keaton in the film.

The film is a celebration of actor/comedian/filmmaker and genius Buster Keaton.  Buster, in those days meant ‘Fall’ and Buster Keaton grew famous in funny falls from the young age touring the country with his travelling show parents.  The film is an examination of the artist from literally a baby to adult, which writer/director Peter Bogdanovich undertakes.

Who better than Peter Bogdanovich whose most famous film WHAT’S UP DOC? starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal was likely influenced by the slapstick antics of Buster Keaton.  Bogdanovich also loves black and white oldies and made the excellent THE LAST PICTUR SHOW and PAPER MOON, all black and white period pics.

Unless one is familiar with Keaton’s films or grew up in those times (i.e. if you are over 70), there is much to enjoy in the old footage assembled by Bogdanovich.  From Keaton’s early pictures like his two reelers to his shorts and feature films, expect plenty of laughs. 

Bogdanovich also ties in the passion of film into the doc.  Not only is Keaton’s talent for comedy shown but his genius in filmmaking.  

The early comedic sequences are the ones with Fatty Arbuckle and Keaton.  Arbuckle was Keaton’s mentor and introduced him to film, which aided Keaton’s fame.  The sequence of the two having dinner is not only funny but a genius in its set up.  Other simple sequences featuring these two are equally priceless.

Every genius has his downfall or at least bad times in life.  Arbuckle got entrapped with a murder charge and scandal.  For Keaton, it was his drinking and contract with MGM.  The film was clear to point out that MGM destroyed a few classic comedians of the time including The Marx Brothers, Stan and Ollie and Abbott and Castello with churning out their worst films.  Keaton’s drinking led to his divorce and firing at MGM, fed up with his drinking.  The height of his depression led him  to be committed to an army hospital taken away in a straight jacket. ‘Straight Jacket required to move Buster Keaton to hospital, ” read the newspaper headlines.   

It becomes apparent half way through the film that material is running out.  Bogdanovich inserts old Keaton film footage as fillers.  At least they are funny and satisfying in filling the time.

The film ends with Keaton’s death in 1966 and with the words of Dick Van Dyke who delivered the eulogy at the funeral service.

THE GREAT BUSTER is a celebration of not only Keaton but the artists of the silent era.  The film’s best segment is the clip from Charles Chaplin’s LIMELIGHT where Chaplin and Keaton performed together for the first and only time.  



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Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation Poster
While on a vacation with his family, Count Dracula makes a romantic connection.

According to Cineplex Magazine, writer/director Genndy Tartakovsky finally agreed to do the second sequel when his in-laws invited him and his family on a cruise ship to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  This was when Tartakovsky realized that being confined to one location with ones family’s is fertile ground for the drama and disaster needed for this third outing.

The first two H.T. films were only so-so, so one wonders the reason Tartakovsky was so reluctant to do a third film.  To his credit, this one is the funniest of the lot, likely because Tartakovsky has gained more experience as an animated comedic director.  There are not that many jokes that involve the monsters in the confined space of a cruise ship, likely because the ship is large enough for the monsters to get lost.

Unlike most animated films (DESPICABLE ME, ZOOTOPIA) in which the plot involves something really substantial like saving the world, the lazy story involves the monsters escaping extinction as they are pursued throughout the ages by the Van Helsing family who believe that all monsters are bad and must be eradicated from the face of the earth.  This is introduced at the film’s start, which is actually the film’s most hilarious bit, where the monsters are in disguise trying to pass on as humans on a train when Van Helsing suddenly appears.  A chase on the top of the running train ensues with the monster all getting away with Van Helsing as the only casualty.

Dracula (Adam Sandler) agrees to go on a cruise ship with his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and his troupe of monsters that includes Frankenstein (Kevin James), the werewolf (Steve Buschemi) and the invisible man (David Spade).  He goes on a date and falls in love with the ship’s captain, Erika (Kathryn Hahn) who not only happens to be a woman but Van Helsing’s daughter and has it in her blood to destroy Dracula and his pals.

With Adam Sandler leading the voice cast, one can expect the jokes to be silly.  And the jokes come as silly as they get, which fortunately are quite hilarious.  One complaint is that they happen a bit too fast, so that a lot will be missed if one is not paying full attention.  The lazy plot allows for a lot of improvised jokes with the monsters reacting largely to each other.  The voice cast is impressive, and includes the likes of Kathryn Hahn, David Spade, Wanda Sykes and even Mel Brooks.  It is hard to know who is voicing which character even with Sandler voicing Dracula, as Sandler does his characterization with an East European accent.

Even a child will know that Dracula will survive once again from the clutches of Van Helsing or his daughter.  Director Tartakovsky manages to sneak in a nice message or two within the proceedings.

The idea of an animated feature containing all the known movie monsters is a good one, thus spurning three in the franchise and with more, more likely to come.



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1987 Movie Review: SPACEBALLS, 1987


Movie Reviews

Directed by Mel Brooks
Starring: Mel Brooks, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga
Review by Mark Engberg


Having squandered their own air supply, the inhabitants of Planet Spaceball kidnap a wealthy princess to rob her planet of its precious resources.



“Everybody got that?” Dark Helmet asks the audience after his chief-in-command Colonel Sandurz delivers the plot exposition to his fellow villains.

This late 80’s parody of science-fiction fanfare may have been tardy in satirizing the “Star Wars” empire that George Lucas built a decade earlier. In describing his prime target in making “Spaceballs”, Mel Brooks calls the sci-fi epic “the final frontier. It is the last genre I can destroy. So I am destroying it.”

Additionally, he has categorized this entry as “half wit, half physical, half disgusting, and sometimes beautiful. It’s my appreciation of the human event.”

While some critics have challenged Mr. Brooks’ timeliness in the sci-fi parody, this film has enjoyed a cult appreciation in terms of its clever writing and enjoyable characters. Another factor to appreciate: Apogee, Inc accomplished the special effects in this comedy in the dwindling days of pre-digital CGI. Like the original “Star Wars” trilogy, Agogee’s special effects team had to construct models with computerized motion control systems to give the flying Winnebago and endless Spaceball One the illusions of movement.

During these contemporary days of special effects design where anything and everything can be done with digital enhancement, it is refreshing to watch a master like Mel Brooks carve genuine comedy out of handcrafted science fiction.

Even though “Spaceballs” features lasers, spaceships, and alien make-up galore, Brooks never steps too far away from his fan base in delivering the pratfalls and one-liners that made the man a comic icon. He even gets a guy in a bear suit to get a cheap laugh in the third act.

The movie begins with a “Star Wars” scroll giving the audience a brief history of the Spaceballs universe. Under the hilarious leadership of President Skroob (Mel Brooks, hmm, I just realized the name is an anagram) the citizens of Planet Spaceball are forced to invade new worlds in order to steal their air supply.

Mimicking “Star Wars” to the last detail, Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) kidnap Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) in an effort to blackmail her father, King Roland (Brooks all-star for father figures, Dick Van Patten).

This is where Bill Pullman and John Candy come in, as Captain Lone Starr and his sidekick Barf, an allusion to Chewbacca in that he is half-man, half-dog. Candy is hysterical in his performance of the mawg, but the real winners of this role are the operators of Barf’s mechanical canine-like ears. Every time Barf appears to listen, his auto-receptive ears perk up like antennae. The effect is comic gold.

Like Han Solo, the character of Lone Starr is motivated by money. With perfect deadpan, Pullman says, “Barf, we’re not doing this for the spacebucks. We’re doing it for a shitload of spacebucks!”

The reason for the greed is that Lone Starr has a heavy debt to pay Pizza the Hut (voiced by the recently departed Dom DeLuise). And Pullman plays the character of Lone Starr with a humorous yet touching sentiment that would have made Harrison Ford proud. With a note of sadness, Lone Starr tells Vespa he hails from the Ford Galaxy. Those who do not remember the Ford Galxie 500 have come to assume that this joke is a reference to the actor who played Han Solo.

But there is more than enough of “Star Wars” reference to go around. Brooks even uses the famous Wilhelm scream as one of his Spaceball troops is shot in the ass by incoming laser fire.As a matter of fact, keep an eagle eye out for the Millennium Falcon parked next to Lone Starr’s Winnebago at the interstellar gas station.

This is not to say that George Lucas’ beloved saga of “Star Wars” is the sole target of Mr. Brooks’ parodying lightsabre. In “Spaceballs”, he references “The Wizard of Oz”, “Star Trek”, “Alien”, and even “Planet of the Apes”. Keep a sharp ear ready for that last one. That is the voice of Michael York playing the second ape on horseback.

Brooks definitely goes above and beyond his traditional self-reflective voice in this film. In ways like never before, the writer/director/producer/star lists his former Hollywood achievements as videotapes stored upon a futuristic spaceship.

“Instant cassettes,” says Col. Sandurz. “They’re out in stores before the movie is finished.”

In one of my favorite comedic sequences of all time, the villainous Spaceballs fast-forward through their own movie in order to discover the location of the good guys. After which, Dark Helmet and Sandurz engage in an Abbott and Costello routine of existential misunderstanding.

And the self-reflective filmmaking joke continues throughout the movie. Before teaching Lone Starr about the powers of the Schwartz, Yogurt (also played by Mr. Brooks) explains his profession upon his lonely planet.

“Merchandising,” says Yogurt. “Where the real money from the movie is made.” Yogurt then goes on to sell the audience item after item of Spaceballs merchandise, all of which is a joke. In fact, Mr. Lucas allowed Brooks to make “Spaceballs” on the condition that there would be no merchandising for this movie. This would, of course, account for the spotty nature of the “merchandise”. Notice that “Spaceballs: The Coloring Book” is nothing more than a Transformers illustration book (Twenty years before Michael Bay began ruining my beloved robotic heroes himself!)

There are many other individual items of “Spaceballs” to enjoy for the pure sake of silliness. John Candy wins the award for the best use of the middle finger (beating out Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix” and Jennifer Aniston in “Office Space”) after Lone Starr and Barf park the Winnebago in the Spaceball penal territory.

I am also a big fan of the great Stephen Tobolowsky’s short yet pleasing scene as an effeminate Captain of the Guards. He only has a couple of lines, but there is just something about his delivery that makes his character as memorable as Barf.

“Spectacular stunt, my friends, but all for not . . .” he lectures to his captives before realizing they are nothing more than stunt doubles.

The scene when Dark Helmet is caught playing with the Spaceballs action figures is also one of my favorite reactions in filmed comedy. According to cinema trivia, Moranis performed this scene impromptu after Brooks suddenly conjured up the premise on set. How they got the action figure so quickly is anyone’s guess.

And let’s not forget Joan Rivers as the voice of Dot Matrix, Princess Vespa’s personal assistant droid. Ironic, though, that the Joan Rivers of today currently resembles the physical appearance of the golden android.

A subtle shout is also made to fans of literary essays. When Spaceball One is revealed to be a gigantic transformer about to engage in “metamorphosis”, Dark Helmet prompts his officer: “Ready, Kafka?” Think about that one.

Final thought: Does the alien that bursts out of John Hurt’s stomach play a song that seems familiar to all who watched those classic Looney Tunes cartoons? It should. The song and top hat dance number is homage to “One Froggy Evening”. You know, the one where the frog grabs a cane and dances to “The Michigan Rag.”

SPACEBALLS, 1987.jpg

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1977 Movie Review: HIGH ANXIETY, 1977

Movie Reviews

Directed by Mel Brooks
Starring: Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, and Harvey Korman
Review by Mark Engberg


A demented hospital staff in this classic parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s suspenseful classics threatens a renowned psychiatrist suffering from vertigo mental illness.


After tackling the traditional Western, the classic horror epic, and even the pioneer style of the silent movie, Mel Brooks takes on the most ostentatious of Hollywood entities: Alfred Hitchcock. This is a movie that not only suggests but demands familiarity with Hitchcock’s reputation as the master of suspense in order to get the better half of the jokes.

In traditional Mel Brooks style, the comedy is delivered without subtlety. In fact, he crams the references in your face like it was a pie from an abusive waiter. Or a bellboy (who gets no tip).

While the level of wit can be described as sophomoric, it must also be acknowledged that Mr. Brooks surpassed all level of expectation in this project mimicking the great works of Mr. Hitchcock: “The Birds”, “North by Northwest”, and of course “Vertigo”. Roger Ebert disapproved of Brooks’ satirization here, stating that Hitchcock classics were already full of wit and that a slapstick farce mocking the director’s style of storytelling was inadequate and heedless.

Mr. Ebert may have a point regarding Brooks’ simplistic style of principal shooting. Honestly, did the man ever study three-point lighting? Or how to eliminate a boom mike shadow from a reflecting angle? If not for Brooks’ impeccable sense of timing and unconquered comedy, his production would seem amateur and somewhat unnatural.

But given Mel Brooks’ pampered edge of such a heralded style and his respectful style of soft-core mockery, I must disagree with Mr. Ebert and his speculation of improper irony. Who better to challenge the Master of Suspense than the Master of Farce?

Instead of appearing as a cameo, as Hitchcock did in every one of his own classics, Brooks takes the center stage as the star lead in his sixth directed feature. While some may complain about the director’s preference for his own performed comedy, you have to admire the man’s ability to sculpt his own comedic invention into actual product. Mel Brooks is one of the few filmmakers from Hollywood who can be credited, or blamed, as the writer, director, and star of his own celebrated comedy.

Even though his lounge act performance of “High Anxiety” is badly lip-synced, it is obvious that this man is an extremely talented performer, capable of great physical comedy as well as insight. True, his films may have a production value comparable to art house theatre rather than cinema. But his sense of humor appeals to audiences of all ages, which today is an infrequent occurrence for a live action comedy.

Jaded from his harrowing airline flight, Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Brooks) arrives to assume control of the Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. Harvey Korman resumes his role as a spineless villain with many of the same traits he exposed in “Blazing Saddles”. His character, Dr. Montague, is hip deep in devilish conspiracy with Nurse Diesel. Cloris Leachman plays the demented villainess with such grace, her slurred speech and tightened jaw actually frightened the hell out of me when I first viewed this picture as a young boy. Her Cruella de Vil-like interpretation of Ken Kesey’s Nurse Ratched is a hallmark in comedic performance.

Montague and Diesel are bloodthirsty with deception. They plan to eliminate Thorndyke and run the institute as a prison ground for mental patients. Their imprisonment of a famous industrialist incurs the concerned reaction from his daughter, Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn in yet another scene-stealing performance). Her best scene in this movie is a phone call from Thorndyke while a professional killer is strangling him. Except she thinks it’s a heavy breather. You have to see it to believe it.

As Thorndyke and Victoria join forces, their quest enables a frantic chase sequence, which pits our vertigo-challenged hero against a climactic backdrop of heights and bad men who have only half a mustache. I could explain, but why ruin it?

Howard Morris adds genuine warmth to the story as Thorndyke’s mentor, Professor Lilloman (pronounced “Li’l Ol’ Man”). As he nurtures Thorndyke out of his acrophobia, he supplies many laughs as temperamental comic relief. Comic rule #87: Old Jewish doctor types who swear loudly= huge laughs.

Also, watch for the scene where the bellboy attacks Thorndyke in the shower of his San Francisco hotel. While it may be clear that Brooks is spoofing “Psycho” in this shot-by-shot send-up, it took me repeated viewings until I finally recognized the actor playing the bellboy: none other than Barry Levinson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mr. Brooks. After “High Anxiety”, Levinson would go on to direct his own immortal comedies such as “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Rain Man”.


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Happy Birthday: MEL BROOKS

melbrooksHappy Birthday director/writer MEL BROOKS

Born: June 28, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA

Married to: Anne Bancroft (5 August 1964 – 6 June 2005) (her death) (1 child)

Florence Baum (26 November 1953 – 20 January 1962) (divorced) (3 children)



dir. Brooks
Gene Wilder
Zero Mostel
dir. Brooks
Frank Langella
Dom DeLuise
dir. Brooks
Gene Wilder
Slim Pickens
dir. Brooks
Gene Wilder
Teri Garr
dir. Rob Minkoff
Ty Burrell
Max Charles
dir. Brooks
Dom DeLuise
High AnxietyHigh Anxiety
dir. Brooks
Harvey Korman
Madeline Kahn
HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART 1History of the World Part 1
dir. Brooks
Mel Brooks
Gregory Hines
AN AUDIENCE WITH MEL BROOKSAn Audience with Mel Brooks
dir. Brooks
Anne Bancroft
dir. Mel Brooks
John Candy
Rick Moranis
Bill Pullman
dir. Brooks
Jeffrey Tambor
DRACULA DEAD AND LOVING ITDracula: Dead and Loving It
dir. Brooks
Leslie Nielson