Tag Archives: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World

R.I.P. Peter Falk

With apologies to Philip RothGoodbye Columbo.

Peter Falk passed away yesterday at 83. Probably most famous to most people for his longtime role as the rumpled but intelligent Lt. Columbo, Peter Falk had a long and storied career as a film and television actor. In fact, his breakout role was as psychopathic hitman Abe Reles in 1960’s Murder Inc., an Oscar-nominated performance.

Video: Murder Inc. trailer

I’ve always appreciated Falk’s versatility. He could play serious or demented characters, but also excelled in comedy roles in Murder By Death, The Great Race and The In-Laws; even his cab driver cameo in It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World was memorable.

He was great friends with John Cassavetes and made several films with John, Gena Rowlands, Seymour Cassell and Ben Gazzara. Husbands and A Woman Under The Influence got bigger press, but my favorite Cassavetes collaboration was Mikey and Nicky (directed by Elaine May), a story about a tragic and twisted friendship.

Video: Mikey and Nickey trailer.

And following on yesterday’s TGIF about Boston criminals, I would be remiss in not mentioning The Brink’s Job. Falk could do it all.

Just one more thing…goodbye Peter Falk. Thanks for a lifetime of great work.

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Glee Whiz

Not with a bang, but a whimper…

I should have known better than to have been too jazzed to see the cast of Glee take on Rocky Horror. Like many, I fell for the promo clips and well-distributed cast photos and falsely assumed that they would really take a…um…bite out of the classic musical. And when the show opened with those lips and almost a full take on “Dammit Janet“, I thought maybe they were going to really pull out the stops this time. It’s not like there is a shortage of great songs in that show – hell, they’re all great.

But sadly, the sappy melodrama that is Mr. Schuester dragged the whole thing down into the mess that is his character’s personal life. I’m not certain what the motivation is behind that character arc, but what was once a sympathetic and likeable character has quickly become a wimp, a loser, and finally, a cad. If they’re trying to tell us that even an adult can suffer like a high school student, stop – we get it. Lately when Jane Lynch isn’t shredding the room with her Sue Sylvester quips, there are only two reasons to watch the show these days, and they’re named Kurt and Brittany. Chris Colfer and Heather Morris never fail to hit it out of the park. More of them, please, before it’s too late.

Frankly, the best moment of the night was having the camera pan past Barry Bostwick and MeatLoaf (for those who don’t know, they played Brad and Eddie in the film). A more courageous show would have left it right there, a perfect sight gag, much like the camera panning by The Three Stooges in fireman gear in It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Instead they tried to milk it in a follow-up scene where they played soulless network execs trying to stir controversy out of the production. Amusing, yes, but an overplayed hand.

Not that the casting matchups were bad. Lea Michele aped Susan Sarandon’s voice (as opposed to her usual Streisand channeling) but was overshadowed by Cory Monteith’s dorky take on Brad (not far from his Finn character). Chord Overstreet (yes, that’s a real name) looks so much like the original Rocky character it’s as if he was hired just for this episode.

In the line of the night, Artie suggests that he plays “the guy in the wheelchair”, and John Stamos even got to wear his Elvis “Comeback Special” catsuit and belt out “Hot Patootie” (in B flat, mind you!). And while Amber Riley (Mercedes) flexed her always-great pipes on “Sweet Transvestite”, the modernization of the song (let alone the neutered lyrics) fell flat.

Overall the ensemble did a nice job on “Time Warp”, with Santana and Brittany frighteningly well cast as Magenta and Columbia, and Kurt finally got to flaunt a little Riff Raff. But did we really need the downright creepy scene between Scheuster and Emma in place of remakes of classic scenes from the film, let alone full versions of the songs? Not only was it completely out of character for Emma to behave as she did, but thanks to that lame subplot we never got to hear “Rose Tint My World” or “Eddie” or “I’m Going Home”. (Remember, the rule is more Kurt and Brittany…)

So a couple of bright spots, but mostly underwhelming. Hey, if they could suck it up and go to the wall for Madonna, they could have paid just as much respect to Rocky Horror. Just sayin’.

Lesson learned again – like most times, stick with the originals. And if you can’t do that…well. it’s midnight somewhere – get thee to a theatre!

The Rocky Horror ShowOriginal cast soundtrack

Rocky Horror Picture ShowOriginal film soundtrack

Yes, that was Santana.

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Stand Up Wit…Jeffrey Ross

Although I love Jeffrey Ross’s stinging barbs on the Comedy Central Roasts, I was not a fan of his first CD/DVD release, No Offense. Matter of fact, I gave it a kick in the nuts at the time, and I stand by that review; he’s capable of much, much better.

But I need to give credit where credit is due, and over the past few weeks I wound up viewing his film Patriot Act and finally reading his book I Only Roast The Ones I Love. Big thumbs up to both.

The book is a combination of three things – light biography, showbiz back room stories and a how-to-be-a-Roastmaster primer. Credit the author or credit the editors, but it juggled the three topics adeptly and for the most part is a breezy and enjoyable read. The how-to part is obviously written tongue-in-cheek, since being funny is a gift, not a trade. But he offers some valuable tips for the weekend/wedding roaster which should elevate a clumsy act with potential into at least a clumsy act that’s organized.

The bio and backstage bits are well-balanced; lots of caustic one-liners from the roasts, some inside and backstage bits about famous comics and several heartfelt exchanges with or about legends (i.e. Milton Berle) who Ross obviously reveres. While obviously charting his own success he deftly describes this rise with a minimal amount of ego-stroking.

Fans of his generation will no doubt appreciate the anecdotes involving contemporaries like Jimmy Kimmel, but anyone who appreciates the art of comedy will see the respect that he has for the history of the art form. By extension, they’ll learn to respect Ross a little more in the process. I know I do.

But that Bea Arthur story is going to give me nightmares.

I’m as much an avid fan for films about stand-up comedy as I am films of stand-up comedy. Ross promotes this as little more than a “home movie”, but it’s simultaneously as strong a documentary about comedy as it is an endorsement of our brave troops stationed around the world. I don’t mind when those of us with different political agendas get caught up in deep discussions about our political beliefs, but it’s a weak mind that thinks a person opposed to a war is “against the troops”.

Maybe it’s the word troops; these are people like you and me, or our sons, daughters, siblings and parents, who have volunteered to serve our country and by that definition, serve the rest of us. When I hear some politico accusing another of being “against the troops” I know they’re out of mental ammo and gasping. It’s bullshit cheap shot rhetoric that only idiots and talk radio sheep buy into.

I wish all those poison hearted people who toss words around with such callous disregard could watch how a group of comics interact with our military personnel and juggle full frontal comedy with complete deference and respect. But even if you miss the more important point, you’ll come away having enjoyed some great jokes courtesy of Ross, Blake Clark, Drew Carey, Rocky LaPorte and Kathy Kinney. (And as a longtime fan of Drew Carey, I was glad to see his tireless efforts for the troops get some overdue recognition.)

Coincidentally I just re-read Jay Mohr’s book Gasping For Airtime this week. He and Ross both revered Buddy Hackett, and while I grew up watching Hackett on television and in the movies (It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World is a stone cold classic), I came away with a new respect for him as a both a comic and a mentor. And seeing a new generation of comics paying genuine respect to those who laid the foundation is heartwarming; both Mohr and Ross knew Hackett well (and Mohr does a killer impression of the man). Maybe someday the DVD wizards will finally release this gem.

Jeffrey Ross on Wikipedia.

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