[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 21 – Young Frankenstein (1974)

Director: Mel Brooks

Cast: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars, Madeline Khan

Screenplay: Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks

106 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted from Other Materials
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

 

Tonight, I need a laugh, so I did what any smart person would do in the middle of October looking for a spooky-good laugh: I took out my copy of Young Frankenstein.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Producers) is struggling to escape his family’s horrible legacy. Supposedly, his grandfather notoriously created life from dead tissue, and all his life, Frederick has never been able to get out from under the family shadow, but when he is personally invited to Transylvania to his grandfather’s castle, he discovers that maybe his family wasn’t so crazy after all, or maybe they were…

Young Frankenstein is absolutely brilliant, a perfect movie experience built around a career-best performance from Gene Wilder. Wilder also co-wrote the script with director Mel Brooks (Spaceballs, Dracula: Dead and Loving It), so it very much is his baby. His portrayal of Frederick flip-flops between nuance and over-the-top insanity. He also has perfect comedic timing. Scenes that shouldn’t work end up brilliant. This is a comedy genius at the height of his power.

The entire supporting cast is amazing as well, from Marty Feldman (In God We Trust (or Gimme That Prime Time Religion), The Last Remake of Beau Geste) as the eccentric and odd Igor to Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show, The Croods) as Frau Blucher, the housekeeper of the castle. Both characters would be iconic enough as stars of the film, but both combined with Wilder’s Frankenstein make for a unique and original comedic gem.

Mel Brooks apparently had a rough cut approximately twice the finished run time, and he went through the film, removing the least funny scenes as he came to them. It’s a great idea and good info for practicing comedy directors. Shoot a shit-ton of footage and then just cut out the worst stuff. He was even able to get the original Universal Frankenstein props from a prop designer who worked on the 1931 film to create that authenticity.

Mel Brooks once said that in order to parody something well, you have to love it. That love is especially apparent for both Brooks and Wilder in Young Frankenstein. Two master storytellers combining their efforts to create something truly special. This is a rarity of a film, one that I think is absolutely perfect and only gets better with time. See it. See it now, again and again.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[Extraterrestrial Abductions Day] Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg

137 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Supporting Role [Melinda Dillon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

With today being Extraterrestrial Abductions Day, I wanted to look back at a Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, The BFG) film that I didn’t have much exposure to: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I didn’t see the film until after college, and I didn’t recall liking it very much. So, today, I thought, let’s give it another try.

Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws, Madoff), an electrical lineman in Indiana, is forever changed after he experiences a close encounter with an unidentified flying object while investigating an outage. He develops a thirst to discover exactly what he witnessed that consumes him entirely, causing rifts in his marriage to wife Ronnie (Teri Garr, Tootsie, Aloha, Scooby Doo!) and his children. Roy’s search for answers takes him across the country where he meets Lacombe (Francois Truffaut, The 400 Blows, The Green Room), a French scientist also enamored with the possible discovery of alien life.

My frustrations with Close Encounters of the Third Kind do not lie on the technical side of things. I happen to find the visuals and sound design to be superb, some of the best put to film (coincidentally, the film was released the same as the original Star Wars, which nabbed a number of technical awards at the Oscars). I enjoyed the performances from Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon (A Christmas Story, Reign Over Me) as Jillian, a single mother who shares in Roy’s journey for answers.

My issues, though, come from Spielberg’s screenplay and how he chose to direct it. Roy does some pretty shitty things in the film, he isn’t a character I like or feel for, and yet Spielberg chooses to give the film such a light-hearted tone. It’s as if to say to his audience, “Look at this funny guy pushing his family away! My, isn’t he strange?” It just didn’t work for me. I want to feel for him and what this journey is doing to him, but I don’t.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a beautiful film, one that furthers the abilities of the artist with its progressive sound design and visual effects, but I just didn’t like the emotional arcs of the characters. An impressive technical marvel to this writer, but one without true substance.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

Dumb and Dumber (1994)

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Director: Peter Farrelly

Cast: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly, Karen Duffy, Mike Starr, Charles Rocket, Victoria Rowell, Teri Garr

Screenplay: Peter Farrelly, Bennett Yellin, Bobby Farrelly

107 mins. Rated PG-13 for off-color humor.

 

1994 was a very good year for films. I may have already discussed this, but I feel like I need to reiterate. 1994 was one of the best years for films in history. From a critical standpoint, we had such classics as Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, and Forrest Gump. From a comedy standpoint, audiences received a hilarious turkey (or triple play) from Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kick-Ass 2) with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb & Dumber. It was a great year.

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Dumb & Dumber is a bit of a comedy enigma. The film is far too stupid and outlandish to be good, and yet it is one of the most incredibly perfect comedies ever constructed.

Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) is an idiot. He has just fallen in love at first sight with a woman he doesn’t even know named Mary (Lauren Holly, TV’s NCIS, Spirited Away) and when he finds a briefcase she has lost in an airport terminal, he vows to return it to her. He enlists dog groomer and best friend Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels, TV’s The Newsroom, Good Night and Good Luck) who, like Lloyd, is an idiot, to help him in his quest and make a new name for themselves in the land of opportunity, Aspen. The trouble is, Mary didn’t lose her briefcase, and Lloyd and Harry have entangled themselves in a plot more menacing than either could have anticipated.

The film is made by its performances. Everybody in this movie plays it straight to the book except Carrey and Daniels, and it is made all the more goofy than it should be. We have some incredible supporting work from Mike Starr (TV’s The Young and the Restless, GoodFellas) as a hitman trying to take our lovable morons out of the picture. There is also the terrific late actor Charles Rocket (Dances with Wolves, Hocus Pocus) who is a family friend of Mary’s.

There are some truly laugh-out-loud moments and one-liners that keep this film at the forefront of fans’ minds long after viewing for the zillionth time. I still cringe at the encounter that the dumb-dumbs have with local law enforcement after getting discovered with an open bottle. I still giggle everytime the guy in the diner yells “Kick his ass, Seabass!” and I still find a happy place every time Seabass tries to get revenge on Lloyd in the bathroom stall of a gas station.

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To make a long story short, or for that matter, a smart story dumb, Dumb and Dumber is a perfect comedy that belongs in a hall of fame alongside other greats like Tommy Boy and Animal House. It stands the test of time even after twenty years and I can see it living on another few decades.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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