Tag Archives: Mel Brooks

Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks!

I was flipping channels and caught the end of the Get Smart movie starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, and while it was mildly entertaining, I couldn’t help think how it paled in comparison to the brilliantly written series.

Of course, I can watch that whenever I want – a majestic box set.

And it made me miss Mel Brooks. Yes, I know he’s alive, and a spry 85 at that (pickles are nutritious, you know). But Woody Allen keeps spitting out films at a rapid pace, occasionally hitting the high marks again. But he’s long since given up zany comedy. Most of today’s comedy films are so broad and cliché that they quickly fade from memory. But the world of today is a crazy, insane place. We need crazy, insane comedy.

We need Mel Brooks now more than ever. I know he has lost so many of his reliable company; Harvey Korman, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Rudy DeLuca, Madeline Kahn, Ron Carey and Kenneth Mars have all left this mortal coil.

But as Mel himself would say, “we have much to do and less time to do it in.”

Happy Birthday, Mel! Now get busy

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Happy Birthday Don Adams

Don Adams died five years ago today.

Get Smart was one of the funniest television shows of its time, combining puns and double-entendres with great sight gags. Of course, they had a ripe playing field to run around on. Spy movies were big at the time – from the apex of the James Bond films to the more serious (and better scripted) classics like The Ipcress File and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

Of course, with writers like Buck Henry and Mel Brooks, how could it not be funny? Catchphrases “Would you believe?”, “Missed it by that much!” and “Sorry about that, Chief” became part of the lexicon. It’s no accident that Steve Carell played the Maxwell Smart role in the recent big screen adaptation; both comic actors have a knack for sarcasm and deadpan humor. By more or less playing it straight, their buffoonish characters are that much funnier.

Adams’ distinctive voice was also immediately recognizable as the lead character in a pair of well-known cartoon classics – Tennessee Tuxedo and Inspector Gadget. Not much acting there – each sounded exactly like Maxwell Smart hiding behind an animated costume, which made watching either of them a surreal experience for me.

But sometimes lightning in a bottle is just that. The Get Smart films Adams made were amusing but paled in comparison to the show, as did the Carell film (which had its moments but completely blew the tone). Adams and Barbara Feldon even tried to re-launch the series  thirty years after the initial program debuted (with Max as chief!) but it  floundered and died. Thankfully, the studios finally released the complete set of the original Get Smart episodes two years ago…it’s amazing how much of it holds up after forty-five years.

Don Adams Wikipedia page

Get Smart on DVD

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Blast From The Past: Redd Kross

 

By the time Redd Kross released Show World in 1997, they had already been a successful recording act for almost two decades. I thought that maybe this one would propel them from the minor leagues into the household name category, but once again the masses turned a deaf ear, and thirteen years later I’m still waiting for the next one.  Two years after its release, guitarist Eddie Kurdziel died, and the band put everything on the back burner. 

Hard to believe that it’s been thirty years since their debut EP. Harder to comprehend is that leaders and brothers Jeff McDonald and Steven McDonald are still young pups in their mid-forties; they recorded Red Cross when they were teenagers. Forced to change their name for obvious reasons, they released six albums over the next seventeen years, slowly moving from punk rock and juvenile subject matter to more highly polished material that rivaled the best powerpop songs of their era. 

Many fans preferred the hardcore punk days when subject matter ranged from cereal and comic books to Hollywood celebrities like Linda Blair and Mackenzie Phillips; Neurotica is often mentioned as their best work. I was gobsmacked when “Annie’s Gone” came blasting out of my speakers;  great vocals, big guitars and a hook that could snag a whale… 

Video: “Annie’s Gone” 

They mastered the art of mixing bubblegum pop, glam rock and hard rock into an irresistable mix, which is why I  much prefer the later releases (Third Eye, Phaseshifter and Show World) that focused on those crunchy pop rock nuggets. Show World in particular has three stone-cold classics in the first five tracks – “Pretty Please Me” (a faithful cover of classic by The Quick), “Stoned” and the shoulda-been-a-smash-hit “Mess Around”. Radio blew it once again. 

Video: “Mess Around” (live) 

The band has been making live appearances over the past few years and a limited release of a live CD/DVD called Got Live If You Must (a takeoff on an early Rolling Stones title) was gobbled up by lucky fans. There have been one-off projects by Ze Malibu Kidz and The Steven McDonald Group, and their Bitchin’ Ass podcasts have kept fans in stitches. 

Judging by that video clip, the boys are in top form. Reportedly their new release – recorded with drummer Roy McDonald (no relation) and former guitarist Robert Hecker – is almost ready to rock. I’ve been waiting thirteen years, so I’m ready! 

 

Listen to song clips at Amazon

Visit the Redd Kross website and their MySpace page. 

*** 

Damn your eyes. Too late!

 

Speaking of blasts from the past, bug-eyed British comic Marty Feldman would have been 76 years old today. He left us far too soon; dead of a heart attack at 49. Most people know his work in the Mel Brooks films but were unaware of his small screen work, from his writing and performing on British television to the American era staring with his debut as part of Dean Martin’s show. He combined physical comedy, quick-witted dialogue and absurd situations in a unique mix that people all over the world responded to. 

R.I.P., Marty – thanks for all those smiles

Visit The Marty Feldman Tribute Page.

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Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks!

 

He’s given us (among other things) Get Smart, The Critic, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and The Producers. He helped get The Elephant Man and My Favorite Year brought to the screen. He made his bones in a writer’s pit with Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and Sid Caesar

As an actor, director, producer, screenwriter, lyricist, singer and playwright he has helped introduce satire and parody to the last three generations…and his timeless work will continue to entertain the planet (and whatever life-forms visit in the future) for eternity. 

He’s won an Emmy, a Grammy, a Tony and an Oscar

 

He is, without a doubt, a comic genius

He is Melvin KaminskyMel Brooks to us – and he’s 83 years old today

I’m sure I’m not the only person who can recite lines from Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein by heart – I might, if pressed, spill out the whole movie. When The American Film Institute (AFI) released their recent poll of the funniest movies ever made, Brooks scored three of the top thirteen: Blazing Saddles (#6), The Producers (#11), and Young Frankenstein (#13). That is astounding

As an Alfred Hitchcock fan, I have a soft spot in my heart for High Anxiety, which skewers several Hitchcock films perfectly while maintaining a suspenseful (but hilarious) plot of its own. It’s a funny film if you’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, but if you know the master, it’s priceless. And who but Brooks would float a silent movie – called Silent Movie, of course – where the one spoken word came from the mouth of the world’s most famous mime? 

I realized recently that there were a lot of people who were very familiar with Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles (film and Broadway versions) but were unaware of Mel’s iconic “2000 Year Old Man” character, a routine played to perfection with the great Carl Reiner. A few months ago Shout Factory released a box set collecting all the albums and cartoons, adding some commentary and rare footage. It’s a first-rate package and a must-own for comedy fans. 

 Here is my review from earlier this year… 

 

Reiner recalls that the genesis for the 2000 Year Old Man occurred when he approached Brooks with “Here’s a man who actually knew Jesus” and Brooks deadpanned “Oh, boy”. But although they would continue the routine in private for years as parlor entertainment for themselves and their friends, it wasn’t until they were finally prodded by Steve Allen to record it in his studio. (Or perhaps it was George Burns asking if the routine had been recorded, playfully insinuating that he’d swipe it if it wasn’t.) Reiner had gotten in the habit of bringing a tape recorder to these parties because Brooks never said the same thing twice, and he was astute enough not to let this comedic gold slip away. 

  

Over the years the pair released five albums: 2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (1961), 2000 and One Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (1961), Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks at the Cannes Film Festival (1962), 2000 and Thirteen (1973) and The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 (1998). The 1998 album won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Comedy Album, besting fellow nominees Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jeff Foxworthy and The Firesign Theatre.  

The structure of featuring the title character as one among many was continued on the second and third albums, but the fourth and fifth albums were dedicated solely to the man who survived modern history. Reiner continued to play the voice of the audience, asking questions and challenging answers. “He was like a District Attorney” claimed Brooks, who felt that Reiner’s real-life knowledge of history and important events raised the bar on the exchanges. “I knew the questions” quipped Reiner, “but I didn’t know the answers”. 

Read the rest of my review at PopMatters

Mrs. Robinson, I think you DID seduce me!

Mel Brooks wiki 

Get this incredible collection of Mel’s films for a pittance! 

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T.G.I.F. – Gene Wilder Edition

Who doesn’t love Gene Wilder?

I smile every time that commercial airs on television where Gene’s wonderful voice croons a line from “Pure Imagination” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I don’t even remember the product (nor would I pimp it here if I did) but I tip my cap to their choice of material. Actor, writer, director, producer…Gene Wilder has given the world many laughs.

How would you like to start your film career in Bonnie and Clyde and then star in The Producers as your second effort? Or within a few short years, star in the iconic Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles and go toe-to-toe with the manic Richard Pryor? (Ironically Pryor was supposed play sheriff Bart opposite Wilder’s Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles – the part went to Cleavon Little, who the studio thought was a “safer risk”)?

Wilder’s film career all but stopped after the death of Gilda Radner in 1989, and in fact didn’t make as many films as you’d probably expect. But he sure had a high percentage of winners.

So Happy Birthday, Gene Wilder. These are ten of my favorite moments you’ve given me from a wealth of great performances.:

The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles – “You can’t hold a gun let alone shoot one!”

Eugene in Bonnie and Clyde – “I’m gonna tear them apart! Those punks!”

George Caldwell in Silver Streak – “I can’t pass for black!!

Dr. Ross in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex – “If I could see Daisy alone…”

Victor Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein – “Putting on the Ritz

Skip Donahue in Stir Crazy – “We don’t take…no shit. That’s right. No shit!”

Dave Lyons in See No Evil Hear No Evil – “YOU…are a dumb idiot!”

Willie Wonka – “Pure Imagination

Claude and PhillipeStart The Revolution Without Me – “Crazy? I’ll show you crazy!

Leo Bloom in The Producers – “I’m wet! I’m hysterical and I’m wet!”

Gilda’s Club

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Wishes for 2010 Comebacks

 

Happy New Year! Many of us look upon January 1st as a fresh start, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start a new plan. For others, it’s an opportunity and a challenge to make a mark in life, to have a sense of purpose and accomplish a goal. And for pop culture freaks, it’s a chance to wonder what the year ahead has in store, as every year brings us some wonderful surprises, whether a great album or a new TV show. Who will occupy our thoughts in 2010? Certainly there will be some new breakout artists, but as always, some blasts from the past will knock us for a loop as well. 

All too often we take our cultural heroes for granted, expecting them to continually churn out yet another book or album or screenplay at the same pinnacle of quality. If they hibernate or quit, we pine that they walked away too early. Yet if they start to slip, we pounce upon them for overstaying their welcome and selling out. But our culture seems preoccupied with success and redemption, so we seem to be especially cognizant of those who recapture some past glory, especially if the road since then was paved with difficulty. 

I used to be among the camp that wanted to leave well enough alone – don’t tarnish a reputation with a comeback, but walk off on top and disappear into legend. With very few exceptions, no one does that voluntarily; it’s usually an untimely death that cements a legend. James Dean might have made as many horrible film choices as Robert DeNiro had he lived into his sixties. Had Elvis died while in the service, he’d still be larger than life, only not literally. But instead we usually witness a fall from grace – Willie Mays playing center for the Mets, Dick Clark still counting down New Year’s Eve. 

But after seeing Mott The Hoople reform in 2009, after watching Jim McCarty and Johnny Badanjek rocking like they were teenagers again, after having Dana Gould and Steven Wright release hilarious new albums years after I thought they were done with it all, I’ve jumped ship. Life is short – give me all I can handle. Not everyone will succeed, but I can swallow the moments of ineptitude for a calculated risk that there will be moments of pure magic that otherwise never would have happened. 

So with that caveat in mind, here are ten reunions, revivals and/or comebacks I’d like to see this year…a few of which might actually happen! 

Risk and Reward

The Faces – A test run happened late this year where Ian McLagan, Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones finally gave up on Rod Stewart‘s false promises and played a gig without him. If only they would have done this while Ronnie Lane was still alive, but throw in Glen Matlock on bass and someone like Sulo of The Diamond Dogs on vocals and this could be magic. 

Arrested Development – Maybe line-for-line the funniest television comedy ever, and it’s a crime that something that great couldn’t find a strong audience let alone a network exec with a spine who would have kept it on the air for the sake of art. (Yeah, right) Rumors about a movie continue to swirl – please get it done before it’s too late! 

RockpileBilly Bremner is playing music in Europe, Nick Lowe is still great but sedate, and…well, where the hell is Dave Edmunds, anyway? Technically they only made one album although all those Lowe and Edmunds records were really Rockpile albums in disguise. Seconds of Pleasure turns thirty this year – how about a sequel? 

Eric RobertsMickey Rourke was right – if someone would just give Eric Roberts a chance, I think he’d knock the ball out of the park. After all these years tolerating his sister’s horrible movies, I think Hollywood owes me a film where Roberts has a great role to sink his teeth into. Tarantino, you listening? 

The Kinks – Come on, guys, even The Zombies have managed to get back together. Dave is recovering but back out on the stage, and Ray’s work over the past couple of years has been among his best. There’s an entire generation who hasn’t seen the band live on stage. Please guys…one for the road

Mel Brooks – I know he’s having great success reviving old hits on Broadway, and I know he’s in his eighties. But he’s still one of the quickest, sharpest wits around and perhaps five years after losing the great Anne Bancroft he will dig deep for one more devastating comedy film. 

The J. Geils Band – Peter Wolf still has the chops, and lord knows we need a band that doesn’t take itself so seriously. A kickass band with a guy who knew what being a front man was all about, their party atmosphere the antithesis to indie shoegazing. 

David Simon – The man gave us two of the finest television shows in history – Homicide and The Wire. Both scripted dramas were far more real than any of that reality TV crap that we drown in today. Save us, David. 

Tonio K. – I think I wish this every year. Not sure if he’s flying well under my radar or just involved in other projects (like assembling a blues compilation) but it’s been over a decade since Gadfly Records released his reissues and almost twenty since an album of new material. America needs all the cynics it can get.

Robert KleinGeorge Carlin might have been the one to make the most of the opportunity, but it was Robert Klein who helped put HBO on the map with his comedy specials. Whip-smart and multi-talented, I can’t believe that the events of the past several years haven’t inspired him to create a new hour of material. We need you, sir. 

"You start something this time, we all get a half-life, go figure it out on your own..."

Cover Me

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Four Little Frankensteins

Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein

 

Edgar Winter Group 1973

Frankenstein

 

Frankenstein Karloff

Old Frankenstein

 

Frankenstein 1910

REALLY Old Frankenstein

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